“The Nutcracker” in the time of Covid-19

Dear Editor,

I saw some good news this weekend that lifted my spirits and want to share it.

I saw my wife Ashley Hensel-Browning direct “The Nutcracker” with a cast of such hopeful, hardworking Dance Factory dancers, parents, and costumers and snowmakers – things we expect in normal times, right? A little Tchaikovsky, a little snow, some feathers – normal activity in Springfield, Vt., on the second weekend of December. But to see it come alive in Covid times, against the wind – even my own hard heart was touched by that. I know what went into it. Ashley and her students taught and learned outside through Thanksgiving; there were no live audiences, no ticket sales, no certainty about whether the latest guidance from the governor would even allow “The Nutcracker” to go forward at all, right up to the last day!

My point is not to promote the Dance Factory or Ashley, but just to testify to the beautiful things I saw this Saturday. These good people are a light in this world, because of what they do for each other and the community. And really I am so proud of my wife for bringing this “Nutcracker” safely into the barn, against all the storms. It means the world to many families.

I didn’t used to know anything about “The Nutcracker” or what it means; But now I have seen it, both in normal times and what I saw this weekend, I have come to understand that “The Nutcracker” is an important, character-building project for kids who dance ballet. They work for it, sometimes all their lives. They start out as goslings and mice; and as they grow, their skill grows. Their roles grow. A person can become a Snow Queen, a Prince, an Arabian. They can become the things that they dream about. It’s not nothing. I’m no dancer; I’m just telling you what I have seen.

And to see it this weekend in 2020, being filmed at the Bellows Falls Opera House without a set – because Covid didn’t allow us into Springfield High School where the show’s usual audiences and props are gathered. One scene at a time allowed in the theater, some filmed in single takes by SAPA TV; with Russian Cossack dancers waiting on the sidewalk outside the Opera House in masks for their turn to get their temperatures checked? Mark Derosia climbing way, way higher than a man with a gray beard and a bag of snow should legally climb, let alone in a mask at all times, to make sure that the Snow Queen’s magical spell could be cast? The total delight in the eyes of the goslings as they scooted back under Mother Goose’s skirt?

I’m saying these are things money can’t buy. Only love can pull them off. I saw tremendous love, hope, and joy at “The Nutcracker” this weekend. What truly shines a light of hope for me is that it wasn’t just this weekend. These dancers move all year every year. They’ll be back at the Dance Factory on Monday.

It’s not for nothing that this Nutcracker is made by The Dance Factory. Susan Hagan started it 35 years ago on the factory floor of the Fellows building – long, long before the renovation. Ashley was among the early students there. What I saw this weekend makes me look back on all the changes, everything that has been done and made. It gives hope, this thing they’ve built on that factory floor in Springfield – and this year in Bellows Falls. It gives a lot of hope, that we are people who make things.

Thank you Ashley, Kate, and Mark Derosia, and everyone at The Dance Factory, for making this magic happen. I believe. And for folks who want to see for themselves: look on SAPA TV and Okemo Valley TV!


Sean Whalen

Weathersfield, Vt.

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