The Show Must Go On: The Baltimore School for the Arts’ Nutcracker Ballet in Photos

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Nearly 40 years ago, Baltimore School for the Arts, a public high school located in Mount Vernon, started an annual winter tradition to perform the classic ballet The Nutcracker by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. The performance features high school and TWIGS dancers and is staged in the BSA’s grand ballroom and theater to sold-out and diverse audiences, many of whom return every year. 

During 2020, they took a pause in production, but it wasn’t time wasted. This year, the BSA added a contemporary spin on The Nutcracker, choreographed by resident artist Amy Hall Garner, an internationally known choreographer based in New York City, known for works in the ballet, modern, and theatrical genres. With dance department head Laura Halm, they made changes in staging that would ground this 1892 classic in their students’ world.

For the first time, the BSA featured a rotating cast of principal dancers selected regardless of race, gender, or body type. The on- and off-stage talents of BSA students—including stagehands, set and costume designers, and dancers showcasing contemporary choreography—resulted in a sold-out week of The Nutcracker: A Magical Tale in Mount Vernon from December 9–18, 2021, and they graciously offered me an opportunity to visit behind the scenes and create photographs of the iconic performance.

When I first stepped into the rehearsal studio, I hadn’t considered how dancers have an advantage to communicate without relying on the mouth. Body language! Despite a continuing pandemic, BSA dancers would perform The Nutcracker once again for live audiences, but this time with masks and a new sense of conviction. As I observed behind the scenes of their penultimate performance, Tchaikovsky’s score piped into the maze of dance studios and dressing rooms, where tired teens finished their homework, watched TikTok, and rested, waiting for their chance to perform. 

The following morning, The Rockettes in New York announced they were canceling the rest of their season’s performance and I realized the BSA had ended the run of The Nutcracker just in the nick of time, before Omicron cases put a stop to holiday performances and traditional gatherings. Perhaps we can no longer rely on the quintessential Christmas traditions, but what I witnessed at BSA is that artists, performers, and the larger cultural community can continue to rely on one another. The show must go on.


Kyleigh Johnson, a senior at Baltimore School for the Arts

Kyleigh Johnson, a senior at Baltimore School for the Arts, speaks to what it is like to return to the program in person: “It’s fun to get a chance to dance again on a stage, even though we have masks on, which makes it harder to express myself. It’s better, but it’s not the same.”


Aajah advises, “It’s hard work to get to where you are, and it’s not for the weak! But it’s also a great experience. A hard but learning one.” 


Dance faculty Tony Wilson leads a warm-up before the dancers change into their costumes for the performance.
Ginny, wardrobe

Ginny, on working wardrobe: “It’s not what I thought it was going to be, but I’m glad I got to be in here. Everyone is really nice. I’m glad I get to do what I like doing.” 


Kal’el, dancer

Kal’el shares what he learned about himself through this process: “It’s very, very hard to wake up in the morning and do the show all over again. You have to talk to yourself to say, ‘hey, you came to this school to become a dancer, now you have to pursue your dreams whether you like it or not.'” 


Jayden, who plays the character “Spirits,” awaits the final curtain call in one of the empty dance studios. 
Laura Halm, Dance Department Head

Laura Halm, the Dance Department Head, sits in the corner of the balcony where she watches the start of each performance. She is an alum of the dance program at the Baltimore School for the Arts. 


Seraphine and Niobe Paisley, TWIGS students

Seraphine and Niobe Paisley. The school works with TWIGS, a free after-school arts program for 2nd-8th graders, allowing these sisters to perform together.


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