Photo from a previous BBT performance of Nutcracker.

Photo from a previous BBT performance of The Nutcracker.

by Jennifer Szulman

The 27-year-old Brighton Ballet Theater/School of Russian American Ballet (BBT) will be one of only three schools in Brooklyn this winter to perform a version of the classic ballet The Nutcracker, and theirs will offer a distinct telling featuring inspiration from the neighborhood’s various cultures.

Since 1995, BBT has remained the only dance school in Brooklyn to perform The Nutcracker. This year, however, they will be one of three local schools to perform the ballet, and will feature more than 40 young dancers alongside seasoned professionals. Cheographed by Edouard Kouchnarev, the 55-minute-long production draws nuanced inspiration from a Russian Nutcracker-inspired cartoon, and a heartwarming tale of diversity aimed at a young audience.

In this particular version, a young girl similar to Disney’s Cinderella becomes a princess. It is good to simplify an otherwise intricate plot for little children, BBT’s owner said, because they can understand what is happening. Most of the parts are danced by kids and instead of ending in The Land of Sweets, this version finishes in the Land of Cultures, where all the cultures flourish together – not unlike their adopted Southern Brooklyn community.

Founded in 1987, creating the prestigious school took perseverance, drive and the childhood dream of a young dancer.

As an immigrant from the Soviet Union, Irina Roizin aspired to open her own dance school. These dreams came to life when she saw a newspaper advertisement about a small ballet school open on Avenue M. Lessons were held in a quaint living room where three students were trained by a former student of Russian ballet teacher Agrippina Vaganova. At the time, the school had no owner and was funded by the parents of the three students. The teacher and Roizin eventually worked together to create a program for young children. In time, Roizin moved the school to Brighton Beach.

Roizin taught for nearly three decades, growing it to accommodate approximately 400 children per year.

“Our goal is to serve the community,” Roizin said. “Over 27 years, about 15 of our students became professional dancers. We do achieve our goal by bringing up professional dancers but the main thing is to give all children an opportunity to dance professional scale ballet. Even if they’re not going to become dancers, they will take something from this that they can bring to a different profession.”

For those who wish to become masters of the craft, ballet helps dancers develop a skill set used to shape not only themselves physically, but also emotionally and socially.

“This is disciplined, something that gives children an opportunity to be closer to arts, to change their personality, ideas, what music they’ll listen to,” Roizin said. “It’s not too many kids that understand classical music, can be disciplined about themselves, about what they eat. We realize that most of the kids that take ballet for a lot of years do better in school. It’s better attention, social skills and self-esteem. It helps them in a lot of ways.”

Professional dancers are invited to the school for young students to learn from, allowing the children to see what can come from their dedication and hard work.

The non-profit BBT continues to grow its services, recently opening up a pilot program for children with autism, and offers scholarships to students with need.

“We never turn a child away,” Roizon said.

For parents thinking this is just a place to drop their kids off for a play date, though, Roizon points out that she aims to train the best of the best.

“When kids come and parents tell the child, ‘Okay, go have fun!’ I always say, no, you can have fun at the park,” Roizin said. “You don’t have to pay money to have fun. They come here to work and learn something. Maybe this is a little bit of a different approach. The parents who understand stay with us and understand that whatever we do, we do to help parents raise intelligent, educated children. The kids need to understand that it’s fun when they dance and wear costumes and perform, but it’s also hard work.”

BBT will perform The Nutcracker on Saturday, December 21 at 6:30 p.m. The performance will be held at the Leon M. Goldstein Performing Arts Center at Kingsborough Community College, 2001 Oriental Boulevard. For tickets, call (718) 769-9161.

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