Monday, December 14, 2015

12.14.15 Visions of Sugarplums danced in their heads

Ballet Austin Nutcracker Cast 2013 - my daughter's last show
When my daughter was 3 years old, we were invited to a mother-daughter event to see Ballet Austin's production of Cinderella.  For more than 2 hours, she sat on the edge of her seat, and when the curtain went down and the lights went up, she said to me "Mommy, I'm going to be a ballerina".

My response was "of course you are" - because all 3 year old girls want to be ballerinas.

However, my girl really DID go on to be a ballerina; for 14 years she danced at the Ballet Austin Academy, and for 10 of those years she was part of the annual cast of the Nutcracker (she STILL dances for fun and exercise).

Charms - all the roles
My daughter was so excited to be cast as an angel her first year, and I bought her a James Avery angel charm, and had the date engraved on the back, as a keepsake.  The next two years, she danced as a mouse in the battle scene, so I bought mouse charms, and by her fourth year, it occurred to me that maybe instead of putting these charms on her regular charm bracelet, they needed to be own their it was...that over the course of those 10 years we created a shiny record of all of her performances.

I confess, I tired of the schlep to rehearsals and the theater, and saw the production more times than I can count...but I got involved in my own way.  I became a docent - going into schools in the Austin area to talk to elementary school students about ballet and what they will see when they attend the performance.
Backs - all the dates

Being a docent is hands down my favorite part of the Nutcracker.  There is something so special and fulfilling about the opportunity to bring an art form I love to students, who often, have never seen a live performance.  For most of my presentations I rely on the wonderful materials provided Ballet Austin Community Education staff.  In addition to the presentation itself, each docent receives a bag chock full of props including, of course, a Nutcracker. For the past several years I’ve also been the docent for a particularly special group of children – the students at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired - and I was excited to see them again last week.

When I was first asked to do the presentation for TSBVI, I was already an experienced docent.  I said “yes” without a full appreciation of what I was taking on.  I knew the students would have little or no sight, but what I did not know what the range of other special needs the residential school serves.  Some students are sight impaired, but very high functioning in other areas, and some have much more severe disabilities and special needs. Fortunately, the school has a wonderful music teacher who gave me great advice on what would spark their interest and be appropriate for her students.
A TSBVI student holds a Nutcracker

Being the docent for TSBVI made me think about ballet in a way that goes beyond the visual.  To bring the Nutcracker alive for these students I focus on their other senses.  Students hear the story through descriptive audio services when they attend the performance at the Long Center, and Tchaikovsky’s fabulous score provides signature phrases for many scenes.

In the first act, there is the ominous music that precedes or indicates the arrival of the Rat King.  At the end of the act, there is snow - which does not fall silently – but as the rhythmic tapping of 32 perfectly timed pointe shoes moving across the stage.  In the second act, each "sweet" has their own musical theme, and as we listen I ask students to imagine the taste and smell of coffee, tea, cinnamon, chocolate, almond and peppermint. 

A TSBVI student tries on a costume
The students also love the costumes. Over the years I’ve made a point of taking well embellished tutus so that students can feel the beading, embroidery and tulle – allowing them to “visualize” the garment in their minds - truly creating visions of sugarplums.

My daughter is in college now, and we attend a performance every year when she is home.  But it is my time with these special children that really helps me to "see" the beauty of this "holiday gem".

Until next time.

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