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Gotta dance! Nanuet’s Coupé Theatre Studio stays on its toes despite the pandemic

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This year marked the 50th anniversary of Coupé Theatre Studio, the Nanuet-based dance school. Needless to say, this year has been very different from the 49 years that came before.

“We had to close in March and then we went to online learning for the rest of the school year,” said Alison Frankel, associate artistic director, who credited the studio’s teachers with quickly adapting their lessons to a digital platform.

“We have great teachers who’ve embraced it, but it was definitely a learning curve — it’s difficult to watch every student, because you have to take the time for certain exercises, and then each class repeats that exercise so the children have that knowledge and are working on their technique. And then you go through the slides on Zoom and you watch each child to give them correction.”

The school was able to welcome back students for a limited capacity summer class that ran from the end of July into August. In-person classes resumed in September, but with new protocols in place.

Coupé Theatre Studio of Nanuet
A scene from the new film version of “The Nutcracker” produced by the Coupé Theatre Studio of Nanuet. Photo by Michele Kiely.

“We opened for classes but had to reduce the number of kids that we could have in the building and reduce the number of students in each studio,” Frankel continued. “We set out a grid for all the kids to stand in while they were being taught. We have hand sanitizers and wipes for all the bars that we use and after every class the teachers are required to clean the studio. We also put in five-minute gaps between each group of students coming in and out of the building.”

Frankel praised the Coupé Theatre Studio students for being able to quickly adapt to a new not normal.

“The kids have to wear masks at all time in the studio and our teachers had to teach in masks,” she said. “The students were really good at maintaining mask coverage and were able to take a dance class with them. The most amazing thing was seeing the oldest students performing difficult combinations of dance steps in masks despite the restriction of the breath by having a mask on your face, but they have dealt with it really, really well.”

Today’s lessons are hybrid set-ups where teachers are inside the studios with limited capacity class attendance and other students watching via Zoom. Sixty-inch television screens are installed in the studios so the teachers can fully view both the distant and in-person students simultaneously.

“You may have eight to 10 students in the class with you and two or three on Zoom each class, and they are treated as part of the class,” she said. “The teacher looks at each of the lines and they’re dancing and the Zoom is aligned so they get equal amount of education.”

While resuming classroom instruction was one bridge to cross, a more looming obstacle challenged the school: its annual holiday staple “The Nutcracker,” which is produced annually with the nonprofit Rockland Youth Dance Ensemble and staged at Rockland Community College. When planning began in the summer, it was unclear if the pandemic would abate by the end of the year, and the college was not able to commit so far in advance for hosting the event.

However, an off-the-cuff remark about making a film version of “The Nutcracker” began to spark a new creative consideration. After scouting locations among Nyack’s mansions and hosting auditions, Coupé Theatre Studio’s first foray into filmmaking took place — with a multitude of pandemic-era protocols.

“Anytime there was hand-holding or anything like that, we had to wait and rehearse that separately,” Frankel said. “Before the kids came onto the set, they all had to have negative Covid tests. And once they arrived on set, they were at six feet apart. They would receive their costumes in their dressing rooms, and once they got onto the set that was the only time that they were allowed to remove their masks — and then they put their masks back on after the shot.”

The new 90-minute film version is now in the editing process and Frankel plans to have it available on New Year’s Eve for a $20 rental fee on the Vimeo video platform, with DVD sales being scheduled for early 2021.

And speaking of next year, the studio is thinking about staging outdoor shows, with Frankel noting how the studio’s large parking lot could accommodate a stage and a socially distant audience. She is also considering Zoom-based virtual performances. Still, she is eager to return to the pre-pandemic routine as soon as possible.

“We’re hoping we can get back into a theater, but at the moment, we’re not sure.”

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