NEW YORK—”Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” echoed through the lobby of the NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and 4-year-old Madeline sat up and clapped, engrossed in the ballet before her.
“When she was here two years ago, she was upstairs in her room, quarantined,” said Madeline’s mother Jenna Kellerman. Kellerman had come downstairs for a cup of coffee, and caught a glimpse of the New York Theatre Ballet’s (NYTB) annual performance at the hospital, but had to rush back upstairs.
“She likes it when they’re on their toes and spin around,” Kellerman said of her daughter, and Madeline mimicked pirouettes with her fingers. Christmas means baking cookies, watching holiday movies, and “The Nutcracker” on television, but she has never seen it live. “Every time they had the performance she was sick upstairs.”
Madeline was born at the hospital and had open-heart surgery at 1-week-old, a second surgery when she was 6 months old, and a third when she was 2 1/2, for the same heart condition.
This year, Kellerman came to the hospital to visit a friend with a child in the intensive care unit, and Madeline came along for the performance.
Mice in polka dots and dancers with oversized chopsticks performed the holiday favorite, choreographed by Keith Michael in the art nouveau style, circa 1907. Costumes were designed by Sylvia Nolan, the resident costume designer of the Metropolitan Opera.
“I wanted her to see the show she actually missed,” Kellerman said.
For the last eight years, NYTB has performed a one-hour holiday ballet for the pediatric patients and, more recently, grade students of the nearby PS 4. They have performed “Carnival of the Animals,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “The Nutcracker” in previous years.
“The families and patients definitely look forward to it every year … it’s always nice to be able to bring the arts to our patients,” said Juan Mejia, vice president of operations at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. Many of the pediatric patients are at the hospital for extended stay, which means long hours and long days, Mejia said. “It’s nice for them to have a break from being on the floors.”
“There’s a lot to say about the mental healing of patients,” Mejia said. “The ability for them to have a break from the day allows them to really heal mentally.”
These sorts of intimate performances are the cores of NYTB’s mission, according to founder Diana Byer. NYTB performs in smaller venues, across the world, and “the theatrical experience is quite personal.”
“We can see gesture,” Byer said. Rather than seeing the overall picture from a great distance, “you’re seeing detail. It’s a personal, very intimate experience. It’s how an individual experiences it.”
This version of “The Nutcracker” was refreshed four years ago, from the version NYTB had performed for 26 years. After months of choreography, the ballet was adapted for today’s changing culture.
“It’s designed to appeal to today’s child. It’s in the narrative, the pacing, the costuming, the color,” Byer said.
In addition to small classic masterpieces and one-hour ballets for young children, Byer tries to unearth lost ballets—pieces by great choreographers that have not been performed for many years. “It’s part of our culture and should be seen,” Byer said.
To her, “Art is about generosity of spirit,” Byer said. And performing at the children’s hospital teaches the dancers that. “I think it’s good for the dancers to give back … that’s what art is. It’s something for the public.”