Holiday cheer beats back Scrooge-ish rain at Downtown tree lighting

The Brooklyn Paper
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TREE-LIGHTING SEASON: Center, Canarsie mom Che Larhue and, left, her daughter Zyla Williams ring in the holiday season with an elf from the Big Apple Circus.
ON THEIR TOES: Ballet students pose after a member of their troupe slipped and fell heading out onto the rain-soaked stage.
SINGING IN THE RAIN: The Brooklyn Technical High School Choir belted out Christmas carols without missing a beat.
UNDERCOVER: Caesar the robot stands under a grad student’s umbrella while waiting for its turn to take the stage at MetroTech’s lighting ceremony.

A steady flow of freezing rain soaked the stage at the 25th annual MetroTech Center tree lighting on Monday night, so much so that one ballerina took a dive and the dance performance had to be cut short.

Still, a respectable crowd of 50 gathered under an overhang to watch the festivities that one attendee said turns the page on Thanksgiving.

“The weather’s not going to stop us,” said Che Larhue, who came out to the lighting from Canarsie with her 4-year-old daughter. “This kicks off the season for us.”

Forest City Ratner, which owns MetroTech, organized the seasonal affair and its chairman Bruce Ratner officiated.

Brooklyn Technical High School’s choir kicked off the ceremony with a set of Christmas carols, belting out more yuletide ditties than one might expect considering the vocalists were getting soaked.

Deep puddles had pooled on the stage by the time the singers left to make way for dancers from the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

But as the white-clad ballerinas filed on, accompanied by a lone nutcracker, one of the tiny dancers slipped on the soaking plywood and landed directly in a puddle. She popped up and the dancers took their positions, waiting for their musical queue. But it never came.

Instead, an instructor herded the dancers for a group photo at the front of the stage, then ushered them to safety.

That crisis adverted, Ratner returned to the stage and introduced Borough President Adams. But the usually loquacious Beep only uttered a few lines before concluding “Brooklyn is where it’s at,” and throwing the show to a pair of soggy Brooklyn Nets players.

The towering hardwood heroes, Jorge Gutierrez and Jerome Jordan, looked even more uncomfortable than Adams in the rain, and it was starting to really pick up.

Finally, after a few brief remarks from the athletes, Forest City president MaryAnne Gilmartin introduced the robot booked to throw the light-switch.

Students at New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering built the robot, called Caesar, as a tool to help autistic kids. Until its introduction, Caesar sat dormant on the ground next to the stage, being sheltered by a graduate student with an umbrella.

“I’m so cold,” said Aniket Sharma who helped build the robot. “I just want to go inside.”

For the big moment, Caesar’s handlers placed it on the stage in front of a plastic Santa that had a button protruding from its belly. Caesar waved, looked around with its unsettling camera eyes, then let its mechanical arm fly.

And that was pretty much it.

Parents scrambled to get a few quick pictures of their kids in front the tree before ducking back under the overhang for shelter.

In spite of the shortened ceremony and the inclement conditions, Caroll Gardens resident Karen DeIngeniis said she made the right choice coming Downtown for the tree lighting.

“We chose this over the one in Lincoln Center,” she said. “Why leave Brooklyn if you don’t have to?”

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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