‘The Nutcracker’ on film
The performers take a bow on stage after a “Nutcracker” performance, a scene that appears in the film.

Photo by Kevin Scholz

‘The Nutcracker’ on film

Story By: RICK CHALIFOUX
2/2/2017


ISLIP TOWN—The head of the American Dance Theatre of Long Island in Bayport is the subject of a new documentary that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of its annual show, “The Nutcracker,” at the Patchogue Theatre of the Performing Arts. The film, entitled “From the Top,” made its debut last month on Jan. 12 at the Sayville Theatre before a packed audience.

The film, created by Holtsville resident Kevin Scholz, focuses on his mother, Kathy Kairns Scholz, as she undergoes the process of preparing and putting on the 15th anniversary performance of the classic ballet dance number for the surrounding community. Kevin Scholz, who is a film student at Brooklyn College, grew up dancing at the studio while learning from his mother – a former professional dancer. The show is now heading into its 17th year.

“I had danced at the company for as long as I could remember,” said Scholz. “My mom had me in classes, teaching me. It was weird at first being an outsider with the camera…but I eventually found my place.”

The film depicts more than just rehearsals, offering behind-the-scenes footage of Kathy, who is the true focus of the film. 

“I wanted it to be more personal and have an actual heart to it,” said Kevin. “I made a big case to her early on that it would be an interesting part of the documentary.”

Born in Brooklyn, Kathy first came out to Long Island when she was a young girl with her grandparents. She performed ballet professionally around the country from the age of 18 through her late 20s, before coming back to Long Island and forming her own dance studio.

“She was very pleased with the first cut,” said Kevin, who utilized footage from a series of old VHS tapes of his mother dancing. “I tried to utilize a lot of that old footage, and to see it firsthand was really cool. I was astounded by what she was capable of...[and] she was happy to see a sort of capsule of what she’s been doing for all this time.”

“It was definitely a challenge getting used to someone following me around with a camera 24/7, but after a few weeks it became more natural and I was able to appreciate what Kevin was doing for me and for the studio,” noted Kathy, who also brings in professionals from New York City to supplement the cast of local boys and girls in the performance.

Another key facet of the film is the depiction of a cast of around 200 students (from as young as 3 and up to 17) and volunteers (with guest stars from Broadway) who ultimately banded together to create something special. 

“I wanted to capture the feeling of the experience of putting on a production with a bunch of people,” said Kevin. “By the end, you feel like you’ve all been through something together. To bring kids together, do something positive, and give the kids a feeling of accomplishment is the payoff of all the hard work.

“‘The Nutcracker’ keeps people coming back and has turned into a sort of local holiday tradition,” he added. 

Everyone from the studio and alumni that hail from all over Islip Town  were invited to come to the debut screening in Sayville, and wound up almost filling one of the theaters.

“It was a pretty big turnout,” said Kevin. “The reception was crazy. I didn’t know how people would react, but once I walked into the theater, they gave me a standing ovation.”

Looking ahead to the future, Kevin said that he would like to keep making films, and plans on cutting down the running time of “From the Top” and submitting it to film festivals.

“This has been a giant, incredible learning process for me,” said Kevin, who is a screenwriting major. “I’m proud. It’s been a long process up until this point, and it’s definitely rewarding to have something to show people.”

“I am very proud of Kevin,” said Kathy. “I’m so happy to have documentation of the love and dedication that goes into this production, not just from me but everyone involved.”

To learn more about the American Ballet Studio, the official school of the American Dance Theatre of Long Island, visit www.americanballetstudio.com.