The Dance Enthusiast (Philadelphia) Asks Bo Spassoff About The Rock School's "Nutcracker 1776"
And Why is This Nutcracker Different Than All The Rest?
The Rock School for Dance Education is one of the nation's most prestigious pre-professional dance training programs. Located in Philadelphia with a second campus in West Chester, PA, the school is primarily geared for those seeking training in classical ballet. Students range from as young as three years old all the way up to 20+ years, and it's hard not to bump into one! Nearly 1,500 students audition for the school each year and alumni fill the stages of top ballet companies ( as well as Broadway houses, film and television studios.)
Here are a few alums you may recognize: Devon Alberda -New York City Ballet; Tamara Allison- Child Lead NY Radio City Christmas Spectacular; Alexandra Ansenelli,Principal - New York City Ballet; Laura Breckenridge -The Crucible on Broadway, Grey's Anatomy, Gossip Girl and CSI:Crime Scene Investigation; Fabrice Calmels- Principal - Joffrey Ballet; and Michaela DePrince - Dance Theatre of Harlem, Dutch National Ballet.
After wrapping up another successful Nutcracker 1776 , Bo Spassoff caught up with The Dance Enthusiast to discuss The Rock School’s holiday tradition and what makes it special.
Roger Lee for The Dance Enthusiast: What is the mission and artistic vision behind The Rock School?
Bo Spassoff, President and Co-Director of The Rock School: Our mission is to train the whole dancer. We enable our students to reach their highest standards of technique and artistry. Inherent to our approach are nurturing supportive, caring people who want to elevate the art form and the audience.
We want our students to grow as individuals in the process.
TDE: How has The Rock School grown both artistically and programmatically over the years?
Bo Spassoff: The Rock School has grown in 25 years from a small school of approximately 150 students and a budget of $300,000 to an internationally recognized organization with a budget of $5.4 million. We now have over 1,200 students at two campuses in Pennsylvania and a large summer program.
The Rock School also has an in-house high caliber academic program with dormitories for an international student body. We have partnerships or relationships with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Curtis Institute, The Board of Education, Congreso Latino, Longwood Gardens, The Philadelphia 76ers, The Barnes Museum, Longwood Gardens, and others.
Most recently our organization has developed RockReach, the largest dance outreach program in the region serves over 15,000 children annually, teaching at 20 at-need schools. In addition to in-school instruction, RockReach also offers scholarships and interactive performances such as The Nutcracker 1776.
TDE: What was the thought behind The Nutcracker 1776?
Bo Spassoff: Our older son, who worked with us at the time, came up with the idea. We wanted a "different" kind of Nutcracker that was Philadelphia-centric. As a result, Ben Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson were included. In our plight to revolutionize the Nutcracker, we abbreviated some dances and added a couple of shorter, more update variations. We created something that children would love and would enjoy sitting through.
TDE: How has The Nutcracker 1776 changed over the years?
Bo Spassoff: Nutcracker 1776 evolves from year to year. We assess what worked well and what could be done better. We adjust choreography to the fit the current talent that is in the School. However, the snow scene and waltz of the flowers stay pretty much the same each year. The Rock School begins casting and rehearsing vigorously in September.
Within the next 5 years, we plan on seeing an increase in show attendance. We added a couple of performances for 2014’s holiday season. We’d also like to produce a smaller “touring” version of the show. Currently, The Nutcracker 1776 features approximately 180 talented children and pre-professional dancers.
TDE: What do you think has attributed to the success of The Nutcracker 1776?
Bo Spassoff: The show is successful because it has so many wonderful components. It also strays a little, in a good way, from the same old Nutcracker formula. Our show has more magic, fire tricks, great mice that sword fight, some gymnastics along with wonderful choreography, and a dynamica pace. Our growing audience agrees that this makes for an entertaining and memorable show.
The energy and dynamics found in The Nutcracker 1776 are similar to a good Broadway musical. There is still the charm and artistry found in typical Nutcrackers, but with a compelling force that keeps you engaged. If you have children, you will all leave the theater elated . Rousing Tchaikovsky music and six terrific confetti cannons at the end don't hurt.
TDE: What is your fondest memory from The Nutcracker 1776?
Bo Spassoff: I love the dress rehearsal of Nutcracker 1776 that we do for our inner city RockReach kids at The Merriam Theater in Center City Philadelphia. A full house, 4 seats shy of 1,800 kids who often are not sure what they are going to see, are riveted and often roaring throughout the entire performance. When our large "mice" come down the aisle, the kids in the audience sound like a rock concert. The audience’s energy does not stop there! The reaction and appreciation of the children and teachers is truly memorable.