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Frolic in the footlights

Kendi Herrera, 11, center, dances as a flapper during rehearsal at the National Dance Institute of New Mexico. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Kendi Herrera, 11, center, dances as a flapper during rehearsal at the National Dance Institute of New Mexico. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Click here to see a photo gallery of the dance rehearsal by Journal photographer Greg Sorber.


Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

It’s Wednesday afternoon, and controlled chaos has erupted inside the Hiland Theater.

The stomping footsteps of 600 students from five Albuquerque schools are set in motion by a cue from the director. Just as suddenly, they stop with another cue.

Backstage, there are varied color lines – signifying where each student must be.

bright spotChildren rush back and forth from the costuming area, where last-minute alterations are being made at a moment’s notice.

Some are dressed in ’50s, ’60s and ’70s attire or as flappers, railroad workers or military servicemen.

A voice carries through the theater, “Find your spot.”

The children quickly get in line, patiently waiting for their cue to hit the stage.

And the music begins.

It’s the first mass rehearsal for National Dance Institute of New Mexico’s production of “Route 66, Legends of the Road.”

The production is being presented today and Saturday, as well as next week by NDI as a celebration of its 25th anniversary.

The production is being staged for the first time in 15 years and tells the story of Route 66 and its cultural significance.

There are two moments in the production where all 600 students will enter the stage.

“The first is ‘runs and jumps’ and every student will get a chance to run and jump right at center stage under the spotlight,” says Russell Baker, NDI executive director. “The second time is the grand finale. Those moments are when the cast comes together and it’s breathtaking. Enthusiasm and the smiles on each child’s face captures the spirit of NDI.”

The Hiland Theater has a long history in Albuquerque and sits on Route 66.

Originally opening on April 20, 1950, it screened films until mid-1995.

Since then, it has housed live theater, concerts, as well as screening the occasional film or two.

Its current chapter consists of it being home to the NDI New Mexico and is the perfect venue for the production.

Six hundred students fill the stage during the opening number of “Route 66, Legends of the Road” at the Hiland Theater.

NDI New Mexico is founded with the knowledge that the arts have a unique power to engage and motivate children. The purpose of its distinctive programs is to help children develop discipline, a standard of excellence, and a belief in themselves that will carry over into all aspects of their lives.

Baker wrote the production when he moved to New Mexico and began teaching.

“I saw the iconic Route 66 signs everywhere,” Baker says. “The road is this icon of U.S. history and culture. I thought it was a fun thing to celebrate something that’s in our own backyard all while having an education value.”

Joseph Padilla, playing the roadrunner, tries to evade Orlando Aragon, as the coyote, during rehearsals for “Route 66, Legends of the Road” at the Hiland Theater.

The students participating in the production have been learning their numbers at their respective schools over the course of the school year. The schools participating this weekend are: East San Jose, Janet Kahn School of Integrated Arts, La Mesa, Los Ranchos, Mission Avenue, Wednesday SWAT, Celebration Team, and Community Tiny Tots. The second week will have students from Adobe Acres, Alamosa, Montezuma, Navajo, Sandia Base, Saturday SWAT, Celebration Team, and Montezuma Tiny Tots.

Wednesday’s rehearsal marked the first time the cast of 600 students were in the same room together for this weekend’s performances. By next week an entirely new cast of 600 students will put on the show.

“There’s a lot of refining what we need to get together,” Baker said. “It’s enjoyable to see how the children have learned to communicate and listen.”

Baker and his crew were working diligently at working the kinks out for tonight’s performance.

Aalyah Sandoval, 9, center, and other performers dance to “La Bamba” during a 1950s segment of “Route 66, Legends of the Road.”

Costumer Tracey Meisenheimer is working double time making sure each student is in costume. She gets help from three part-time staff members and lots of volunteers.

With 600 kids in the show, there are about 2,750 costumes, she said.

“Because some of the older kids have numerous costume changes in the hour show, that’s where the number grows,” Meisenheimer said. “Because this is an old show that we’re reviving, we’ve been repurposing and sharing clothes between our campuses.”

Meisenheimer is ready for the last-minute changes from the directors.

But the biggest obstacles are having to alter the costumes between this weekend’s performance and next weekend’s because of the different casts.

“I’d say about 1,000 costumes stay the same, but 750 of them change” from this week’s performers to next week’s, she said. “We have a laundromat that we will take the costumes to on Saturday night. They will stay open late and get them to us on Sunday. We’ll sort through them, make alterations, and by Monday the new cast will have their costumes.”


Click here to see a photo gallery of the dance rehearsal by Journal photographer Greg Sorber.


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