Holiday productions during COVID-19

Meghan Wysocki '22, Supervising Copy Editor

Lauren Cooper ’21, second-from-right, performs in South Choir’s Winter Spectacular 10 days before the state would go into lockdown due to COVID-19. This year, the choir will not hold its annual Sounds of the Season concert, which typically features the ever-popular Santa Tappers and Christmas carols, due to state restrictions on indoor gatherings. Photo courtesy of Lauren Cooper ’21.

Hop, hop, shuffle ball change.
Fa-lap, shuffle ball change.
Fa-lap, shuffle ball change, step, STOMP.

The sounds appear in an ever-repeating loop in Lauren Cooper ’21’s head the minute Mariah Carey starts blasting from every radio station across the country. The key to pulling off what is arguably the most popular act of South choir’s annual Sounds of the Season concert lies in those nonsensical words, the rhythms that streamline the Santa Tappers’ movement as they dance their cherry-red, jolly selves across the stage with Rockette-like precision.

But those sounds won’t come out this year. Neither will the Pointe Singers’ rendition of “O Holy Night” or the country-inspired choreography, three years in the making, that involves a pinch of twang, a yee-haw or two, and a whole lot of knee- and elbow-slapping.

Cooper’s reaction? Thanks a lot, COVID.

“It’s one of my favorite shows of the year,” Cooper said. “It’s disappointing for me because I’ve worked for three years to get to this position, and it’s being taken away.”

Five miles away, at Casali School of Dance in St. Clair Shores, Bella Hanika ’22 wraps up her rehearsal. This place is her second home– she’s there five or six days a week. Her ‘light days’ at the studio are three-hour rehearsals. She’s been dancing since two and a half and was the only 10-year-old to grab a sought-after spot on the holiday dance team, something she’s kept ever since.

“Dancing is everything to me,” Hanika said. “I hated it at first, but ever since I performed for the first time, I’ve loved the feeling of being on stage.”

Stage, or parking lot. Thanks a lot, COVID. Hanika’s typical holiday schedule included 35 performances over a span of less than two months, sometimes with five or six on a Friday night. Now, it’s down to four, total, and in a completely different setting.

“Typically, we perform at all the senior homes, and they love it,” Hanika said. “We’re like the Rockettes to them. But following safety protocols comes first, so we perform socially-distanced in the parking lot.”

Hanika emphasized how lucky she was to be able to perform. For choir director Chris Pratt, it’s a different story.

“I think that, like so many other things, there is a sense of loss,” Pratt said. “We want to be back face-to-face and performing, but realize that the current conditions and circumstances just aren’t safe to do so. With the onset of a vaccine, I am hopeful we can get there sooner than later. But it must be safe for all involved.”

For Hanika, those current conditions mean no physical corrections during rehearsal, which she said makes it difficult for dancers to figure out what’s wrong. Especially when those dancers are the three- and four-year-old girls that Hanika assistant-teaches.

“If a dancer isn’t moving their foot the right way, it’s a lot easier to physically bend their foot than say, ‘Point your toe and bring your leg up,’” Hanika said. “I struggle with that when I teach. A three-year-old doesn’t know how to take directions very well.”

Cooper said she misses not only the show, but also the rehearsals leading up to it. The energy, the bonding– gone.

“I never thought I would tell someone that I enjoy tech week,” Cooper said with a laugh. “We spend anywhere from two to four hours a day blocking, reviewing choreography and figuring out costumes. “Normally, it’s hectic and kind of stressful, but now, I just miss it.”

Pratt said he is hopeful that restrictions will lift enough in the new year that an indoor performance might be an option, but said he prioritizes safety above all else.

“My hope is that if conditions change into a place where we can be performing, that we will do that as soon as possible,” Pratt said. “We have to be flexible and recognize we just don’t know what we don’t know. If we are at a place where we can do this in March or April, we will schedule our Winter Spectacular and Broadway concerts. It all depends on what the state says.”