Students of The Dance Studio in Auburn perform in “A Nutcracker Christmas” at the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. Amelia Pullen photo

AUBURN — Stress, jangled nerves, delays, setbacks and unforeseen circumstances. 

Putting together a performance of “A Nutcracker Christmas” is a challenge under normal conditions. In the age of COVID? 


For the fourth year in a row, The Dance Center in Auburn will present “A Nutcracker Christmas,” a show featuring more than 70 performers. It’s a filmed version this year and the number of difficulties they had to overcome to make it happen is mind-boggling. 

“So many choices needed to be made to provide a safe environment for all the teachers, dancers and community members involved,” Amelia Pullen, who owns the center, said. 

That’s putting it mildly. 


Othniel Kroger, as the Nutcracker Prince, and Ella Michaud, as Elodie, perform in a battle scene for “A Nutcracker Christmas” at the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. Both are students of The Dance Studio in Auburn. Amelia Pullen photo

For three years, the center has been presenting the beloved performance at the Gendron Franco Center around Christmastime. It’s become a local tradition. But could they pull it off in a holiday season marked by renewed worries over COVID-19, a virus as stubborn and persnickety as Ebenezer Scrooge himself?

“We really wanted to make this happen,” she said. “Part of the reason is that six very talented dancers are set to graduate this spring and this was their last chance to perform in “The Nutcracker.” It’s like a championship game and it’s a big deal for them and their families. So we thought, should we do it? Should we not do it? We knew it was probably going to be really stressful.” 

To say the least. 

Pullen worked to get the production going with her mother, Elizabeth Hansen, who used to own the dance studio. The women said part of the reason they were determined to make it happen was to restore a sense of normality to the community; to show that not everything has to be lost in troubled times.

Lauren Theriault gets into character for a mom role in “A Nutcracker Christmas” at the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. Theriault is also the Sugar Plum Fairy in the performance by students of The Dance Studio in Auburn. Amelia Pullen photo

Ultimately, they set out to film this year’s performance instead of doing it live, but to do so, they would have to abide by and work around the many restrictions imposed by COVID-19. CDC approved face coverings for the performers. Social distance between acts. There were some students who could be there one day, but the next they could not because, as it turned out, they had been possibly exposed to COVID-19 in school. 

The 70 performers along with teachers and others helping with the show had to be shuffled around the Franco Center in a socially distant manner. Between performances, they huddled in the Franco Center basement. 


“We had put their names on pieces of tape on the floor for social distance,” Pullen said. “We had different groups coming out at different times, so there were never 70 people there are the same time, and we made sure to really stick to this.” 

Getting it done

Between rehearsals, costuming, stage design and filming, Pullen also had to soothe the concerns of the Franco Center board of directors, who were getting antsy about the whole thing. In that, she was aided by Elaine Roop, head of the board, who was as committed to the performance as anyone. 

“She was fantastic,” Pullen said. “She really fought for us.” 

Students Max Hall and Aliza Pullen of The Dance Studio in Auburn practice a dance from the party scene in “A Nutcracker Christmas” at the Franco Center in Lewiston. Pullen is the daughter studio owner Amelia Pullen. Amelia Pullen photo

They were also aided, in a very huge way, by the performers themselves. 

“Our kids are very talented,” Hansen said. “And worked really, really hard. They did whatever they had to do.” 


The filming was underway the weekend before Thanksgiving, with local filmmaker Ramsey Tripp tasked with capturing the grace and beauty of this timeless ballet. 

But that was also around the time that medical officials began to caution that the COVID-19 virus was ramping up again. People were getting increasingly nervous about public events of any kind, so Pullen and her team had to adjust the schedule, moving everything up for two weeks. Props had to be hustled into place and all the whole crew had to readjust to the new timetable. 

“They were fantastic about it,” Hansen said. “I mean, everyone responded immediately by coming in to help. It was wonderful.” 

What was it like from the performer perspective? Hey, the show must go on, according to Ella Michaud, a Winthrop High School senior who played Elodie in the performance. It was hard, she said, but that’s show business. 

“It was a lot of hard work because you’re there all the time but it was definitely worth it and it was a lot of fun,” Michaud said. 

For Michaud and her fellow performers, there was never a question of opting out of the performance because of all the hardships imposed by COVID. 


“I mean, I love dancing,” she said. “I’ve been doing “The Nutcracker” at the dance center for three years. And I always look forward to it. It’s my favorite time of the year — Nutcracker season.” 

Students at The Dance Studio in Auburn practice for “A Nutcracker Christmas” at the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. From left are Ella Michaud brothers Othniel Kroger, Stefan Kroger and Christoph Kroger. Amelia Pullen photo

Ditto for Lauren Theriault, a senior at St. Dominic Academy in Auburn who appears as a sugar plum fairy and as a mom in the production. 

“It was very difficult — like nothing any of us have seen before,” Theriault said. “The exercise and energy it took was insane. But it was so much fun. It was definitely unconventional, but The Dance Center does such a great job at making sure everyone has an amazing experience. I think everybody was just very happy that we got to do it.” 

In the end, the experience was also satisfying — although mostly in retrospect — for the pair responsible for most of the heavy lifting part of putting it all together. First and foremost, they had to make sure that everything was done safely. 

Pullen said she found it most rewarding to go through the editing process with Tripp, putting on all the final touches and watching the final product emerge. 

“That’s really enjoyable,” Pullen said. “That’s where you get ready for that moment when it all comes together.” 


On Sunday, the final product will be available to the general public, too. They won’t pack into the Franco Center like in years before — the performance typically results in three sold-out shows — but people will be able to watch that final product nonetheless. 

“With all that we have been through this past year,” Pullen wrote, “we are so grateful to be able to offer ‘A Nutcracker Christmas’ ballet to the public as a movie.”

A room at the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston is full of props for the filming of “A Nutcracker Christmas” by The Dance Studio of Auburn. Amelia Pullen photo

There will be a link to purchase the movie on our website, as well as The Dance Center Facebook page, Sunday Dec. 20. 

Hansen points out there may even be an upside to this year’s approach. In the past, the audience watched the show from their seats, a distance away from the stage. In video, the whole performance will be big on their screens, with close-ups of the performers and angles one wouldn’t enjoy from an ordinary seat in the theater. 

A lot of work? That’s an understatement. In some ways it was a Sysiphian effort, but eventually Pullen, Hansen and their team of performers did get that rock up the hill. 

“Yeah,” Hansen said. “It was worth it.” 

Watch video clips from the making of “A Nutcracker Christmas” here.

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