All a-twirl for ‘The Nutcracker’

Ballet dancers bring the holiday classic to young patients and their families.

Young dancers leaped and twirled their way into the hearts of patients and families as they performed the holiday classic “The Nutcracker” at Spectrum Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

Members of the Grand Rapids Junior Ballet Company, dressed in full costume, performed a shortened version of the ballet on stage in the Balk Cafe, as they have for the past five years.

This year, for the first time, the performance was live-streamed and broadcast on TV, so all patients could watch it―even those who needed to stay in their rooms.

After the performance, some of the dancers went upstairs, accompanied by child life specialists, to visit with children in their rooms and those receiving outpatient treatment.

For 7-year-old Alayla Conley, the event was her first chance to see the ballet. She and her mother, Mercedee Briggs, watched it on TV as she received an infusion to treat her kidney disease.

“Since we couldn’t go down there, it was awesome to be able to watch it,” Briggs said.

Attila Mosolygo, director for Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company, says his group has been visiting the hospital for about five years.

“We see thousands of kids watching us perform throughout the season, and the idea that the children at the hospital weren’t able to see us perform is motivation enough to say we need to do this,” he said. “The reaction on the children’s faces and giving them the experience of seeing a live ballet performance without having to worry about going outside or to the theater is something very special.”

Cosmo Gamaggio, 13, dressed as Fritz, echoed the director’s comments.

“I really enjoy coming here every year,” he said. “It gives an opportunity to the kids who can’t see the whole show at DeVos Place. It makes it so they can get a glimpse of what it’s like.”

The dancers agreed that the tiny stage at the hospital is interesting. It’s about the audience more than the stage, they said.

Benjamin Waldvogel, 18, dressed as the mouse king, said he has been involved in the program for about five years.

“I really like getting to bring the show to kids who can’t get out to see it,” he said.  “Going room to room and meeting the kids and getting to know their names really brings the show to a more personal level.”

Tyler Chartrand, 3, watched the performance while tucked into a red wagon cushioned with a blanket and pillow. His mother Amanda Chartrand said she appreciated the dancers’ willingness to bring the ballet to patients.

The show was a welcome distraction for Tyler, in the hospital several days with stomach issues, she said.

“It’s nice for them to have something to do, an activity to watch,” she said.

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