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Middle and Upper Schoolers Perform in out-of-School Holiday Concerts
As winter begins with its shortening days and mounting schoolwork, a few brave Middle and Upper School students spent the last month stretching, leaping, singing, composing, and altogether working well into the dark during preparations for their out-of-school holiday concerts. Isabella Brafman ’14 recently danced in The Nutcracker, Taylor Foster ’18 danced in her church’s “Christmas Cantata,” Alec Spector ’18 sang in a holiday concert at the 92nd Street Y, and Claudia Skok-Gibbs ’13 played piano at the Kaufman Center, on West 67th Street.

On top of a busy class load in her junior year, Isabella Brafman practices about 20 hours a week with Ballet Academy East. And, on top of this, she rehearsed for The Nutcracker. “Since The Nutcracker wasn’t a part of my normal schedule, it added extra time in the studio later at night on Saturday and all day Sunday,” she says. “Although all of this dancing is time-consuming and hard on my body, it’s really nice to know that all of the hard work and discipline pays off during the performances.”

She admits that there are stressful elements to performing, like falling on stage, or forgetting choreography. Because of this, the time spent rehearsing and building muscle memory is critical. “Once I'm on stage,” she says, “the adrenaline kicks in and I sort of forget about all that stuff. Once I have rehearsed a lot, performing can be really fun and liberating.”

Successful ballet requires an element of illusion – the dance should look effortless, but the dancer must twirl a multitude of considerations: choreography, technique, artistry, the musicality, and the counts. “It is really difficult to remember to look graceful with your upper body while you’re trying to turn out, keep your legs straight, point your feet, and lift your leg high,” she admits. But there are intangible rewards, she says, “because dance is really all about self discipline and pushing yourself to always improve, and I can carry this into my schoolwork.”

She recently performed as “doll,” “snow,” “marzipan,” and other roles alongside principal dancers from the New York City Ballet in the “Yorkville Nutcracker” at the Kaye Playhouse, on Park Avenue.

Though she is only in seventh grade, Taylor Foster has already been dancing for ten years. “My mom first put me in dance classes when I was very young because she wanted me to experience dance like she did,” Taylor says. And the experience seems to be quite rewarding: “Dance adds to my life because it’s like another world to me that is peaceful and makes me happy and I can go there any time I want to express my feelings – or when I just want to dance,” she says.

On December 16th, she performed a contemporary piece in the “Christmas Cantata,” held at her church, the Bethel Gospel Tabernacle in Jamaica, Queens. Taylor can also testify as to the long hours that go into a dance performance. Recently, her Saturdays recently have looked like this: she rehearses from 9-10 a.m.; from 11 a.m. to noon, she assists with a preschool dance class; she has lunch; then, from 1-5 p.m., she continues rehearsing. If a show is coming up, she might have up to four additional rehearsals during the week. Within and between these rehearsals, she stretches relentlessly. “We have to be ready at all times to get up and dance, but never without stretching.”

Taylor also dances with a group called ACT (Arts in Christian Theater), which soon plans an encore presentation of “The Hedge,” a play whose story comes from the Book of Job. On New Year’s Day, she will dance in another concert at her church for her youth ministry. This summer, she will perform a second time in “The King’s Gate,” another ACT production, based on the Bible’s Book of Esther.

While she admits that the rehearsing and performing life adds challenges to her scheduling, she says, “Sometimes, it is not hard for me to manage time for dance with schoolwork and it makes me a better student because dancing helps me express my feelings and I can come to school happy.”

Alec Spector is also just in seventh grade, but has already accrued an impressive resumé as young singer. Now in his sixth year with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, he has given concerts in Sweden, the 92nd Street Y, and at the Ground Zero 9/11 Memorial, with much more to come. Among his chorus’s awards and international acclaim is its recognition by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities as “a national model of artistic excellence and diversity.”

On December 15th, Alec performed in the group’s annual Winter Concert, at the 92nd Street Y. Billed as “an evening of good cheer and festive programming,“ the arrangements included Mendelssohn, Mozart and other “Winter Festival type of songs” that were, in his opinion, “very well done.” The Young People’s Chorus is celebrating its 25th anniversary, so it plans a special gala in February, when Alec will take his talents to Carnegie Hall.

As his chorus includes first graders to eighteen-year-olds, he plans to sing with it through his run of high school. While arrangements are often classical, genres span “all types,” he says, from Southern gospel to rock, “and in different languages also.”
“There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than singing,” he says, “it’s something that’s just inside of me.”

Claudia Skok-Gibbs’ relationship to the piano has not always been so mellifluous. She began with lessons when she was four. “I was obedient with the piano when I was younger because my parents wanted me practice. I tried to quit a few times, but my mother insisted that one day, I would thank her for having me to continue … and I do.”

“When I was 12, I discovered an interest in classical music and decided to give that a try. I spent five years perfecting Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Debussy.” She also taught herself how to play “The Sacrifice,” a highly complicated arrangement by Michael Nyman from the movie “The Piano.” “It was a very difficult piece,” she says, so it was something of a watershed moment when she learned it. This helped her move away from “taking lessons” and towards “playing.”

“I’ve tried to be good at every style of music,” she says. “I’ve tried classical and jazz. Now I wanted to try something modern.” So, for her December 16 concert at her Lucy Moses School of Music, she tackled two songs by the band Coldplay: “Clocks” and “The Scientist.”

There is no set sheet music for these songs – she had to make it herself, adding melodies, voices, and guitar lines into her piano score. Working through the intricacies of this, Claudia comments, “Playing the piano reminds me that I can do anything, which right now is really important to me when I am applying to college.”


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