My only memories of ballet performances were the shows at CCP that my classmates and I had to watch for school long ago. It was fun, but not because I loved the music or the dancing! It was just exciting to be out with my friends, though we were in our school uniforms.
As recent as two years ago, classical music and ballet were farthest from my mind when thinking of family entertainment. But with a ballet enthusiast for a daughter, I had to adapt fast and learn to enjoy it with her. We are now quite adept at listening to classical music and loving learning ballet stories. (Please note that ballet is also danced in modern music. We are just in a classical phase right now!)
We are watching Ballet Manila’s “The Nutcracker” next week. It is part of prima ballerina Lisa Macuja’s Swan Song series, which is her three-year retirement performance series. It’s now on its last year, so I made sure to buy tickets for us weeks ago. I was very glad to hear about Ms. Macuja’s generous pledge to donate all proceeds of “The Nutcracker” and “La Bayadere” to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda. I highly encourage you to enjoy at least one of the performances and directly help in the relief efforts too!
“The Nutcracker,” a story originally written in German by E.T. Hoffman, is about a young girl named Clara (but Marie in the original story) who is gifted with a soldier nutcracker by her wizardly godfather. When her young brother Fritz breaks the toy, Clara “puts it to bed” and falls asleep too.
She is awakened by the sounds of a battle between the Mouse King and a handsome prince who looks like her nutcracker! Once the battle has been won by Clara and the prince, they go to The Land of Sweets where they see dancing snowflakes and are entertained by dancing chocolates, coffee, tea, marzipan, and flowers. The Sugar Plum Fairy dances too, before Clara goes back to her warm bed.
We watched a recital performance of “The Nutcracker” last year, so we are already familiar with the story and have a lot of books in our Learning Basket.
“The Random House Book of Stories from the Ballet” and “The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories” are wonderful collections of ballet stories. “The Illustrated Book of Ballet Stories” on the other hand provides additional details such as the meaning of dance moves, musical highlights, and cultural references, and is therefore a great resource for ballerinas-at-heart. For fun, and so I will not be accused of depriving my daughter of mainstream (and “fluffy”) books, I also got a Barbie version of “The Nutcracker.” Another recent find is “Ella Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker” by James Mayhew.
The music for the ballet adaptation of “The Nutcracker” was composed by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. With Little T being very musical, our main preparation for watching “The Nutcracker” then is all about getting to know the music intimately. Here’s what we did:
- We listened to the whole album quietly, at any time of the day. One time, we started listening while having breakfast, and it let to a whole day of dancing! I bought the cheapest album of “The Nutcracker” that I could find at iTunes.
- Once we were familiar with the music, we tuned in to a program at ClassicsForKids discussing the music of “The Nutcracker” so we will learn about the nuances of at least some parts of the ballet score. This is similar to what you can find in a Maestro Classics CD, which draws a listener’s attention to the details of the music.
- We danced to the music! We stomped and clamped to the Spanish or Chocolate Dance, wriggled to the Arabian or Coffee Dance, danced with bowed legs to the Chinese or Tea Dance, and kicked with our arms crossed in front of us to the Russian Dance. For the Waltz of the Flowers and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Little T floated and twirled to her heart’s content.
- We learned about Tchaikovsky from Maestro Classics’ track about the composer in the Peter and the Wolf album. There is a similar track over at ClassicsForKids.com too.
We are not very into crafts around here. We made simple puppets of the characters of the ballet using coloring pages from the internet, crayons, and popsicle sticks. I was surprised to see Little T enjoy them as she made them dance to the music!
We also made two nutcrackers from tissue paper roll, construction paper, and pipe cleaners. It’s really simple to do: wrap a tissue paper roll with black paper, wrap with blue (pants), red (jacket), and brown (face) papers. Complete the face, add buttons, a hat (the yellow pipe cleaner), hair, and a ribbon (belt) if you want.
There are other themes and topics that we always explore or talk about when studying ballet.
- Orchestra – Since Ballet Manila’s performance will be accompanied by the Manila Symphony Orchestra, we are reviewing and learning new things about the orchestra and different instrument families.
- Perseverance and Humility – Ballerinas go through tremendous training and need to persevere in order to be successful. But they also need to be humble and willing to learn from more experienced dancers.
- Author and Composer – It is always helpful to know something about how a creative work came to be. We take the time to know about those behind a particular work, in this case author E.T. Hoffman and composer Tchaikovsky. A good start would be learning a bit about their countries (Germany and Russia).
- Etiquette – How should one behave when watching a live performance? How do you respect the artists on stage and those in the audience with you? A great topic for children to think about and perhaps practice through pretend play.
We’re really excited to see the show. I hope you can catch Lisa Macuja in this classic ballet to add some magic to your family’s Christmas memories this year.