Rockettes kick things up with new ‘Radio City Christmas Spectacular’ ending

The Rockettes rehearse for the Christmas Spectacular at St. Paul the Apostle Church, 405 W. 59th St. in NYC, on Oct. 11, 2018.
The Rockettes rehearse for the Christmas Spectacular at St. Paul the Apostle Church, 405 W. 59th St. in NYC, on Oct. 11, 2018. Photo Credit: Moon Baby Photo

Much like the holiday season itself, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is all about tradition. Certain musical numbers — like the “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” — have remained in circulation since the ’30s.

This year, the Rockettes are kicking things up a bit with a brand-new finale scene, “Christmas Lights.”

It “is an incredible new number. There are going to be 100 Intel drones that reveal the Rockettes and surround Santa,” says seven-year dance team veteran Jessica Davison, 29.

One morning last month, Christmas tunes blasted from the basement of St. Paul the Apostle Church on 59th Street, where nearly 80 Rockettes were rehearsing the choreography for the production’s new musical number. For those familiar with the production, “Christmas Lights” will begin immediately after the “Living Nativity” scene.  

Drones, representing individual Christmas tree lights, will swarm Santa while creating holiday-themed shapes and patterns. As they fly around the stage, they’ll illuminate the Rockettes center stage. According to a release, the Intel brand drones will appear alongside digital projections that "extend the show beyond the stage," giving fans the chance to feel as if they’re sitting in the middle of a Christmas tree field and classic holiday theater hall. 

“That was really the priority, just to end the show just with a really exciting, immersive experience for the audience, not only incorporating the amazing choreography but also the technology, taking all the digital content out into the house, so whether you’re in the last seat of the theater or the first seat, you’re going to feel like you’re a part of it,” explains Karen Keele, the Rockettes’ creative director.

A Rockette for 14 years, she now leads the dancers through six weeks of rehearsals at the Upper West Side space before the show begins to ensure the team’s movements are seamless. Talking the women through high kicks and plies, she shouts out words of encouragement and reminds them to imagine they’re “feeling the sunshine” through their vibrant facial expressions and smooth movements.  

“It’s a rigorous process. It’s long rehearsal days, lots of numbers and counts and making sure we’re so precise because that’s what we’re known for,” says newcomer Sophie Silnicki.

Prepping for the show and its new number, the Rockettes have been practicing six days a week for six hours at a time.

“Once you see everyone on stage, I think you can really see how much time went into the rehearsal process,” the West Virginia native, 21, adds.  

The Rockettes mark the start of the holiday season with the show’s opening night on Nov. 9. Tickets are now on sale at Rockettes.com/Christmas.