By Walter Rutledge
Plato stated, “Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” For some young people the harsh reality of homeless has forced them to abandon their dreams. The LIFT Study Program developed by New York Theatre Ballet is helping to discover the genius within.
In 1989 a pilot workshop at the Vineyeard Theatre in Lower Manhattan offered a limited program of dance classes and supportive services to young people living in some of the city’s most challenging public housing projects and homeless shelters. The program was expanded to a year round program and for over twenty years The LIFT Study Program (commonly known as Project LIFT) has provided not only dance classes, but whatever basic essentials that will help the children to succeed. These include hot meals, winter coats, pajamas, school supplies and academic tutoring. Students from the LIFT program have gone on to perform with American Ballet Theater at the Metropolitan Opera, played the lead in the Debbie Allen Musical, Twist, appeared on Broadway in Billy Elliot and South Pacific. One of New York Theatre Ballet’s own principal dancers emerged from the LIFT program.
New York Theatre Ballet’s LIFT program strives to not only train promising dancers, but uses ballet to teach self-confidence, responsibility and foster great tolerance and understanding. “Ballet instills a sense of order and discipline in their lives, very different from the chaos many of the LIFT students come from”, explains Diana Byer New York Theatre Ballet’s Artistic Director and LIFT program founder. While in the program, students must maintain a B average in school, Byer frequently checks with the schools for an academic evaluation, tutoring is arranged when a student shows the need for help in any subject.
Every year, between September and June, LIFT enrolls some 30 children in a regular syllabus of one to five classes a week for up to 39 weeks of continuous study. Summer school adds one more month of classes for those able to participate. In addition to scholarships, LIFT provides books, gifts, mentoring, tutoring, performance and touring opportunities, clothing and dance attire, and other help vital for scholastic success. A student’s enrollment in the LIFT program is kept private, fostering a safe environment free from judgment.
As part of the special performance opportunities for LIFT participants, dancers and audience members The New York Theatre Ballet has a series of production designed for young audiences. These one-hour performances are extremely engaging and are designed for children age’s three to ten. The first production offered is Keith Michael’s Nutcracker, which returns for a second holiday season.
The classic story of the Nutcracker begins on Christmas Eve with toymaker Drosselmeyer’s arrival carrying an endearing nutcracker doll. The traditional characters and storyline includes a lively mouse queen with a 18-foot-tail, a journey through the Land of Snow and, of course, a sweet romance between a young woman and her nutcracker prince. This version is set in an Art Nouveau style circa 1907, in addition to choreographer Keith Michael, the production also includes set design by Gillian Bradshaw-Smith, and costumes by Resident Costume Designer of the Metropolitan Opera, Sylvia Nolan. The production will open on December 7, 4:30 p.m. at the Florence Gould Hall, with additional shows on December 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, and 22.
Tickets are $35 for children and $40 for adults. Premium Seating is $45. Tickets can be purchased online at www.nytb.org, Ticketmaster (800.982.2787) or in-person at the Florence Gould Hall box office at 55 East 59th Street, New York City (for more information, contact Florence Gould Hall box office at 212.355.6160. Group rates and special subscriptions are also available at http://www.nytb.org.
In Photo: 1) Victor Rosario 2) Elena Zahlmann 3) Benjamin Levine, Gemma Delfo-Zay and Victor Rosario