Your students’ summer recital routines are a distant memory and it’s time to confront that sugary sweet fairy-tale ballet that dominates the stage every holiday season. That’s right, it’s Nutcracker season!

If you’re not sure you can stand another three months humming Tchaikovsky’s famous score, then put a twist on the tradition and create your own holiday show. DT talked to artistic directors at both professional companies and dance studios to see how they breathe new life into the holiday classic.

Solution #1: Take inspiration from your community to create a Nutcracker alternative.

For years, dance companies around the world have put a spin on the holiday classic by using their immediate environs as a backdrop. One of the most well-known adaptations is Donald Byrd’s The Harlem Nutcracker. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s 1960s jazz arrangement set the tone for this politically charged narrative about the Civil Rights movement.

Whether your Nutcracker’s theme is political or comedic, your school can put on a production that is unique to your community. Philadelphia-based ContempraDance Theatre’s Philly-Nutt-Crak-Up uses the city’s people, places and foods to create a campy holiday spoof. Based on an original rap by company dancer and assistant director Michelle Jones Wurtz, the show incorporates comedy, jazz, hip hop, modern and ballet. “It’s a conglomeration of talents,” Artistic Director Gail Vartanian says of her production. “I like mixing the genres of dance.”

With a cast of outrageous characters, such as “The Rappin’ SugarPlum Fairy,” the hip-hoppin’ “Captain Philadelphia” and a parade of other recognizable “Philadelphians,” the production has continued to evolve over the past three years. The focal point of the show is Wurtz’s rap, supplemented by music ranging from Tchaikovsky to Fatboy Slim. ContempraDance company members dance most of the show, but Vartanian also casts young students from her studio.

To get your own production going, look for inspiration around you and choose complementary dance forms and music. Utilizing performers with acting, comedic, musical or writing skills can add pizzazz to your production. A creative, well-executed show may even draw unexpected audience members. “The traditional Nutcracker usually attracts more mothers and daughters,” says Vartanian. “But a lot of boys and adult men like to come see our show.”

Solution #2: Use another fairy-tale or story with holiday/winter themes.

There are many other non-Christmas stories that are just as touching and entertaining as E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker. Leaf through a stack of children’s books to jog your memory of some of your favorite childhood tales.
“Find a book that means something to you,” says Brenda Way, artistic director of San Francisco’s ODC/Dance. “All kids love storytelling.” The San Francisco–based contemporary company created a production of The Velveteen Rabbit, based on an idea that was born when co-artistic director K.T. Nelson read the story to her son and began thinking about how it could be turned into movement. The story’s themes of loyalty and giving led Nelson to think it would make a lovable production for young people.

The company performs The Velveteen Rabbit as part of its dance education outreach, and aims to get children involved in the production. Included in the program is a booklet that shows children how to create their own choreography, as well as fun character mask cutouts. “This type of show generates creativity and imagination,” says Way. “It’s very focused on heart, and it’s simple and childlike.”

Frances Smith Cohen of modern dance troupe Center Dance Ensemble also created a holiday production based on a beloved story. Her Phoenix, Arizona–based company has been performing a version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen for more than a decade. Cohen advises teachers to find a story that you “make up as you go along.” Besides being danceable, it needs to be flexible so a production can be edited. It took Cohen almost 16 years to fully develop Snow Queen as a full-fledged performance.

You can utilize imaginative, comfortable modern movement, accompanied by voice-over narrative, to tell a simple, child-friendly story. Keep in mind that gestures and facial expressions are essential when performing a tale that the audience may be unfamiliar with. This will also provide an  introduction for your students to the art of storytelling in dance.

Music choice is also central when drawing a new audience to a different type of holiday show. Cohen believes that people enjoy The Nutcracker because of the music. When creating Snow Queen, she listened to a great deal of music before deciding on a rare Sergei Prokofiev score. Her other secrets to success? “Give them the glitter,” she says. “Give them a virtual delight by spending the bulk of the production money on lights and costumes.”

Solution #3: Create your own holiday “variety” show.

Would you rather avoid story ballets altogether? If so, a variety show may be more your style. It allows you to showcase your students’ talents and versatility in a fun, free-form fashion. And, rather than performing the same ballets over and over, variety shows can be different every year. In this case, the challenge is to keep the production from becoming another studio recital by limiting the number of pieces. Focusing on a simple but creative holiday theme may help.

San Francisco–based Smuin Ballet has been performing its “classic/cool” production of The Christmas Ballet for more than 13 years. While the dance numbers and choreography may change slightly from year to year, the ballet’s concept has stayed the same. The Christmas Ballet’s elegant “classic” act features classical music and ballet technique, while the “cool” act is structured more like a Broadway show, complete with tap and jazz numbers, hula dancing and quirky costumes. “The Nutcracker has the same music and choreography every year,” says Artistic Director Celia Fushille. “This production has its staples, but we also create pieces based on our talent for the year, while giving choreographers opportunities to create new works.”

With music ranging from Mozart to Eartha Kitt, a show like this is perfect for a studio that offers many different types of dance. It’s also a good learning tool to help students develop music appreciation and movement versatility.

“Our type of production can definitely be tailored to students,” says Fushille. “Choosing classical music educates them about technique. Then, bringing in music they might be more familiar with shows them that they can dance to anything.” DT

If our June ’08 cover story on ballroom stars Tony Meredith and Melanie LaPatin inspires you to cha-cha, look no further. You to can add simple Latin flair to your summer dance combos by mastering some easy salsa moves. The traditional partner dance found its way into New York City dancehalls in the 1950s, and has since become an international sensation on both the dance floor and onstage. Modern salsa incorporates various Latin dance steps, fusing them with elements of tap, jazz, reggae, and hip-hop.

Free your student’s spirit by incorporating salsa’s zesty moves into tap, jazz, musical theatre, and hip-hop choreography. The expressive quality of the dance allows for improvisation, and the unconventional timing of the steps will challenge your dancer’s musicality.

Free salsa classes are offered all over major metropolitan areas, with classes ranging from beginning to advanced level classes. Gather your fellow dance teachers, and make it fun night on the town!

 

 

Not sure where to find classes? Check out websites such as Meetup.com (http://www.meetup.com/) or CraigsList (http://www.craigslist.org/about/sites.html) to search for classes in your area.


Free Classes in the NY Area:

Club Cache
Touted as one of New York City’s “best kept secrets,” this underground club offers a free class at 10:15 pm before turning you loose on the dance floor.
http://www.clubcachenyc.com/index.html

NYSalsaFiesta Socials: Fun, salsa style “parties” that offer free classes before each session. Socials are located all around the Manhattan Area:

Mondays:
Mambo Con Salsa @ Session 73
1st Ave and 73rd St, NYC
Free class at 7:30 pm, Live Band at 9:00 pm

Saturdays:
Salsa on the Pier @ South Street Seaport
Skipper Café-89 South Street Pier 16, NYC
Free class at 7:30 pm, DJ at 8:00 pm

More info available at: http://www.nysalsababy.com/SalsaParties.html

 

If our June ’08 cover story on ballroom stars Tony Meredith and Melanie LaPatin inspires you to cha-cha, look no further. You too can add simple Latin flair to your summer dance combos by mastering some easy salsa moves. The traditional partner dance found its way into New York City dancehalls in the 1950s, and has since become an international sensation on both the dance floor and onstage. Modern salsa incorporates various Latin dance steps, fusing them with elements of tap, jazz, reggae and hip hop.

Free your students' spirits by incorporating salsa’s zesty moves into tap, jazz, musical theater and hip-hop choreography. The expressive quality of the dance allows for improvisation, and the unconventional timing of the steps will challenge your dancers' musicality.

Free salsa classes are offered all over major metropolitan areas, ranging from beginning to advanced levels. Gather your fellow dance teachers, and make it fun night on the town!

Not sure where to find classes? Check out websites such as Meetup.com (http://www.meetup.com) or CraigsList (http://www.craigslist.org/about/sites.html) to search for classes in your area.


Free Classes in the NYC Area:

Club Cache
Touted as one of NYC’s “best kept secrets,” this underground club offers a free class at 10:15 pm before turning you loose on the dance floor.
http://www.clubcachenyc.com/index.html

NYSalsaFiesta Socials: Fun, salsa-style “parties” that offer free classes before each session. Socials are located all around the Manhattan area:

Mondays:
Mambo Con Salsa @ Session 73
1st Ave and 73rd St, NYC
Free class at 7:30 pm, Live Band at 9:00 pm

Saturdays:
Salsa on the Pier @ South Street Seaport
Skipper Café-89 South Street Pier 16, NYC
Free class at 7:30 pm, DJ at 8:00 pm

More info available at: http://www.nysalsababy.com/SalsaParties.html

Last Friday, I attended the Paul Taylor Summer Intensive lecture demonstration at New York City’s LaGuardia High School. Every Friday, students have an opportunity to demonstrate the repertoire they’ve learned in an informal showcase. Students learn original repertoire from former Paul Taylor and Taylor II company dancers.

 

At this week’s showing, students performed exerts from Taylor’s Runes (1975), Esplanade (1975), Images (1977) and Aureole (1962). These selections were so interesting because they showed different aspects of Taylor’s technique. Runes, a collaboration with composer Gerald Busby, is a ritualistic dance that repeats movement to emphasize the nature of a ritual. The second piece, Esplanade, utilizes a lot of pedestrian movement, including lots of running and leaping. The dance features a good mix of chaos and structure, keeping the audiences’ wandering eyes from leaving the dancers. Images, was inspired by flat, Byzantine paintings, focusing on the unique shapes and curves created by the dancer’s bodies. The last piece, Aureole, with its springing jumps and parallel glissades reminded me of classical ballet. All the pieces focused on various aspects of modern dance technique, ranging from floorwork to jumps, making each piece a special testament to itself. Repertory instructor Susan McGuire pointed out that many of the pieces played around with gender roles, challenging students to play with movement and character roles that they may not normally get to perform. eol

 

Students were selected to perform in one of the pieces, and each piece had three casts. While the thought of watching each piece three times seems like a chore, it was actually quite fascinating to see how each cast brought the dances to life. Each of the casts brought something new to each dance, from solid technical precision, to poignant, expressive movement.

 

Tom Patrick, one of the repertory instructors, said that words are key when teaching this technique to young students. He emphasized that dancers need to “understand the shape of the music and not just dance to counts.”

 

For young students just learning this technique, Patrick feels that Taylor technique is incredibly useful for young dancers entering today’s competitive field.
“Taylor treats the body in so many ways, “ said Patrick. “From floorwork, to springing feet and ‘weird’ dances, Taylor keeps the dancer from dancing clichés. They will be able to adapt to different styles.”

 

 

It’s old news that arts education in public schools is suffering. For almost 30 years, arts classes have been cut to make way for a more standardized curriculum. The growing trend of state budget cuts and the No Child Left Behind Act have forced many school districts to take arts education into their own hands, by forming networks of schools, cultural organizations, funders, local government and other groups. Last Wednesday, RAND Corporation, a nonprofit think-tank, released a report assessing several of these initiatives.

Commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, the report, “Revitalizing Arts Education Through Community-Wide Coordination,” looks at arts-integration strategies in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York City and Los Angeles and Alameda counties in California. The study focuses on how these school sites started their programs, the approach they took and the factors that contribute to their success.

The six chosen locations are urban school districts with large minority populations. While the programs in each school district differ, the study found that the six sites used some of the same strategies. These include:

  • Conducting audits of arts education
  • Setting goals of arts access for all
  • Strategic planning
  • Attracting resources
  • Hiring a single arts education coordinator for the entire school district
  • Offering professional development to teachers, artists, principals and administrators
  • Advocating

According to the study, Alameda, Los Angeles and Dallas had developed working programs within five years of launch. Boston has yet to coordinate the entire city, but has developed some arts programs in the last few years. Chicago and New York City are working toward establishing stand-alone arts classes in the schools.

It’s too soon to predict the staying power of these initiatives, but this study offers hope that schools, with the help of their surrounding communities, can pave the way for arts education for all students.

Check out a summary of the study at: www.wallacefoundation.org

In the face of often overwhelming budget cuts in schools and local communities, dancers, teachers and artistic directors are finding new ways to voice their concerns.
Take a cue from the Corpus Christi Ballet in southern Texas: At a recent city council meeting, the nonprofit ballet company fought a $17, 617 budget cut proposal decked out in full costume. Company and student dancers paraded the meeting as characters from Swan Lake and other ballets.
As of today, the council has decided to vote “No” on the proposal.
“We have never had a more supportive council,” Heidi Hovda, who co-organized the group of art’s supporters, said in a statement to the Caller -Times. “We just wanted them to see the people that these cuts will affect.”
We, as dance educators, realize how much the arts and dance enrich young people’s lives. If it takes a costume parade to wake up your local governments, then grab every available dance enthusiast and make some noise. Even if your efforts are in vain, it may get your studio, school or company in the pages of your local paper.

Check out the full story at: http://www.caller.com/news/2008/jun/18/council-hears-plea-for-arts-support/ and
http://www.caller.com/news/2008/jun/17/many-voice-support-arts-funding/

 

 

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