As a teaching artist for New York City Ballet's The Nutcracker Project, Mari Meade has six 50-minute workshops to introduce third- and fourth-graders of PS 199 Maurice A. Fitzgerald in Queens to the magic of George Balanchine's Nutcracker ballet. By the program's end, these students—most of whom have little to no experience with ballet—will have seen an NYCB performance of the ballet, written a poem and choreographed a dance they'll perform for their fellow schoolmates. Meade kept a journal of her time last winter with the students of PS 199, charting their course from ballet novices to burgeoning dancemakers.
Jeté = Playing Basketball
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor
Lesson 2: In today's warm-up, I introduce jeté by having everyone dribble an imaginary basketball. We dribble, dribble, dribble, shoot, with the "shoot" being a big jump to the pretend basket. Eventually, this morphs into what I call a supermove: We take one person's jeté (Julia, who kicks her leg), and everyone learns it. Then we take someone else's (Ashab, who adds port de bras, with one arm bent and the other sweeping out) and learn it. Then we do the "Ashlia," a combination of both. The kids love it, and it really gets them to use their whole bodies instead of just gesturing.
Then it's time to start working on each class' poem, which is based on a theme or scene from The Nutcracker. It's a group effort—everyone contributes to the writing of it. As in much of dance, I find that the more rules I give, the more creativity that results. First I ask for alliteration, which leads to "squiggly soldiers swing" and "soggy sap slides sideways." When I ask for simile, rhyming and onomatopoeia, one class comes up with "icy dream, dicey scream, spicy feisty super-hot Mother Ginger." Incredible.
Like many NYC teaching artists, Meade holds several jobs—with NYCB, she's a teaching artist for their seasonal programs, Project Ballet and The Nutcracker Project, and conducts workshops at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. She's also a teaching artist with Dancing Classrooms and, once a week, a children's gymnastics teacher. Meade works so many jobs in order to fund her modern dance company, Mari Meade Dance Collective/MMDC.