NEW YORK—Dozens of kids dressed in a variety of colorful costumes sat on the gymnasium floor listening to Sondra Forsyth tell the story of the “Nutcracker” on Dec. 6.
Parents stood nearby; others filled the wooden bleacher seats.
Then Forsyth finished the tale and the show began.
The kids, in groups, stood up and danced, sashayed, and moved to the music while following the lead of professional dancers Cierra Cotton and Andrei Kisselev.
For the next hour or so the students at Haven Academy Charter School, ages 5 through 8, performed nine scenes.
Cotton and Kisselev and seven other professional artists work with Forsyth and her nonprofit Ballet Ambassadors to bring art to schools where it might not otherwise be seen.
“Many, many schools are pressed for money and time, and they can’t get the arts in because of testing and all the demands,” said Forsyth after the performance. The organization leads Ballet in a Day, where kids learn the dances and other moves in the morning, run through the program without costumes, eat lunch, then hit the stage (or in this case, the gym floor).
“You have to find a school where the principal loves the arts,” said Forsyth. The ambassadors have 10 performances they teach, including “Swan Lake” with the younger kids, and “Don Quixote,” “Othello,” and “Great Gatsby,” for middle- and high-school students.
The students appeared intrigued and content despite sitting down for most of the performance—nine groups danced, one after another—with costumes ranging from red dresses and bows to khakis paired with colorful shirts and green sloped hats.
Most of the students appeared enthused when dancing, and in awe of the two dancers, particularly the native Russian Kisselev, also a ballet professor at Manhattanville College, whose broad frame and long legs accentuated some highly technical moves. Several, including one similar to a scissors kick, drew an immediate response from the audience.
The students themselves danced smoothly for the most part. Only once did something seem to go completely off cue: A boy picked up a red bow that fell out of a girl’s hair. The performance went on.
“I like when everybody spins,” said Emily Madgrigal, second grade.
Between watching others dance the children glanced back up at the stands, locking eyes or looking for their siblings and parents.
“It’s good for them, to learn ballet,” said one mother, Lissette Rosario.
Haven Academy is a charter school sponsored by the New York Foundling, a child welfare agency.
Ballet Ambassadors, the nonprofit putting on the performance, was founded in 2001 and is based in Manhattan said Forsyth, the founder, who has just won an award from Encore.org.
The end product from just one day of practice is impressing audiences.
“It even surprises me, and I invented it,” she said. “But when I look at it I’m like ‘Wow, we did it again.’”
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