La Bayadere takes place in Ancient India! One thing you’ll notice when you see India on a map is that it’s got a lot of water around it and when a body of land has a lot of water around it, the place is usually HUMID. Humid places are wet: you can feel water in the air, it rains often and it might even be a warm place with little pockets where the water stays in the ground like lakes or rivers. Also notice, India is pretty BIG!
India has a lot of green plants, because it’s got so much water. It’s got LOTS of rivers.
And now that you see how much water there is, consider this: the story of La Bayadere starts when they find a FIRE they can’t put out.
Science: Fire (in many forms)
You probably already know that water puts out (or extinguishes) fire, but if we don’t have enough water to cover the flames, a fire can keep going and eat up whatever is in its path. How can fire do that?
Fire is very both strong and beautiful. Did you notice in this video, the teacher talked about the colors inside the fire? In La Bayadere, we also see the dancers move their bodies to show they are looking at the SHAPE and MOVEMENT of the fire.
There are lots of ways to look at and think about an element like fire and doing crafts to work through what you see when you see fire is a really good way to start. What do you observe about fire when you recreate it using paper, crayons and glue?
I know that, when I was young, I got really frustrated that my art didn’t show others what I saw when I looked at things. If you’ve ever had that feeling, don’t worry, we aren’t stopping at coloring, drawing or crafting: we are also DANCING. The fire can be in your dancing, too. It is for Nikiya!
Watch the Ballet Online
La Bayadere is a high water mark in classical ballet and, as such, it’s not 100% easy for children to consume. I share this in the event you’d like to share one piece or another with your child but I don’t rightly expect that anyone will share this with their 2-10year old and make it through two hours of high drama in toe shoes. Mind you, it’s one rousing performance and the video production is great: clear and colorful and well danced. You’ll see many characters my abridged storytelling glosses over (e.g. servants, ghosts, tigers) and you’ll see dramas here that put “Real Housewives” to shame.
All this said, the music we use to dance through the story is from the KINGDOM OF SHADES scene, beginning 1:34 and this video’s Kingdom scene is breathtaking.
In La Fille Mal Gardee, the silly boy Alain carries his umbrella with him even when it doesn’t look cloudy. It looks like he’s afraid of the rain, but at the end of the first act, the wind sweeps him up into the sky and carries him away! Of course, this is impossible, but that’s why it’s silly! Or, Alain knew something we didn’t?
Most of the time, when wind hits an umbrella, it looks like this.
ACTIVITY: If you have a cocktail umbrella (of if you want to make one) and you put it in front of a fan, it float away! You can’t make it float unless the umbrella is open and the wind is approaching from under the bell. You can even make it float by blowing.
Technology: Wheat to Flour
Wheat is where flour comes from, and we need flour to make bread. And it takes A LOT of work to turn wheat in to flour!!
Wheat is bundled to be THRESHED more easily. In threshing, wheat berries come out their stalks. This farm in Morgan Hill does it with a pillow case!
Wheat is a long, tall plant and at the top of each stalk are a bunch of wheat berries.
Threshing breaks the stalk and chaff and the berry has to be separated in a process called WINNOWING. This animation calls it “Methods of Separation” and this is where children can get really involved looking at the berries as they vary in shape, size and wight from the chaff or the bits of wheat shaft that always stay in the mix.
People are incredibly creative with threshing. This family made their own thresher out of a bucket. After the berries are cleaned and separate, the wheat can be ground into flour. In this video, you see Mill Stones grind the wheat twice to get flour!
Do you remember when Auntie locked Lise into the house? Did you notice that key was different than the keys your family might use to get into your house?
That key is old! And in England, where buildings are quite old, it’s still fairly common for people to use old locks like that. This is why most of the videos you’ll find about old LEVER LOCK works come from the United Kingdom. This short video shows you how the lever works. Notice the locksmith’s accent:-)
This lovely animation addresses the inner workings of a modern lock with clarity!
Locks and keys are wonderful simple machines. Locks/Keys are both practical end intellectual tools so early education features a lot of activities with them . The blog No Time for Flashcards shows wonderful matching games to do at home with padlocks and luggage locks, and Voila Montessori argues locks can build resilience!
Art: Spinning & Weaving
Lise and Colas show they like each other early in La Fille Mal Gardee, when he hands her the end of a big ribbon and they twirl the ribbon into a big CATS CRADLE.
Cats cradles are a kind of weaving, but it’s also an old game. This video shows how to set up and play Cat’s Cradle. All you need is string you can tie into a loop. Mom’s Minivan has trickier examples, but once your child figures out one Cat’s Cradle variant, it’s quiet fun for a long time!
Weaving is really important on a farm and so is SPINNING! Spinning is what you do to weave wool or cotton into yarn. From yarn you can make sweaters and scarves. Lise and her Aunt weave together.
Did you noice the lovely MAYPOLE everyone dances around at the end of the first act? You can make your own Maypole at home!This adorable Waldorf teacher shares both a song and a model you could copy for a miniature indoor maypole. I especially like this tutorial which the Highland Plains Historical Society (#PPHMAtHome) uploaded just this May. This has a long tradition, and it’s also useful for teaching braiding, so you don’t need to instruct about it exclusive to May or May Day. You can see how this could get really elaborate, but how wonderful to see one that’s simple and easy! And this coloring book has some wonderful offerings, one which is available to print.
Math: (Music) Meter & Time Signatures
La Fille Male Gardee has lots fun songs that play with tempo. Consider the Clog dance in the first act. This might be an easy example to use with your child because the clogs are a percussion instrument and part of the dancing at the same time. You’ll hear the music go fast four times and slow on the fifth. The music signature is 12/8, which explains the speed but the point of my example is that you can count the tempo by counting the sound of the clogs and that’s an apt introduction to
Most of my dancers are 3-6, however, I do have a community of lower elementary children from 6-10 and those children could approach the topic of music and math with an approach using pizza (fractions). I had a hard time learning my notes as a child, but I bet if someone explained it to me with a pizza, I’d have learned faster!
Steps: Asymmetrical jumps
Coloring the following coloring pages will help the dancer see the difference between symmetry and asymmetry as well as the position of the feet as they’re expected to be IN MID AIR. Since the children don’t really get to observe their feet in the air, these study tools (ahem, coloring pages) are the next best thing.
THIS SHOULD BE FUN! We’re beginning with sauté, to remind the children when you jump you MUST point your toes and stretch your knees. In fairness, Sauté (aka temps levé) is a symmetrical jump (both legs do the same thing) and while it demonstrates fundamentals, it’s won’t prepare them for asymmetrical jumps.
After sauté, the children will practice dégagé for stronger feet and to build into glissade, petit jete and assemblé. In other months, we learn sissonne and if the children are ready to zoom through these jumps, I’ll definitely test their abilities!
Do not miss the Royal Ballet School’s Peter & the Wolf! All the dancers (save Grandpa, played by a ballet Master) are students and what great work they do! During the Pandemic, The Royal Ballet put up a special video of their school performing this ballet anew–each time the company does a production, the dancers swap roles, so it’s special to see how the dancing changes.
Please note: links for this ballet often change. YouTubers and Content Owners frequently take down links and add new ones so if you find this is out of date, a simple youtube search for “Peter and the Wolf Ballet” will find you another option.
This Australian Ballet Production of Sleeping Beauty begins with an odd intro: ignore that. The choreographic flourishes in this are darling! The fairies float! Carabosse enters on a trolley like Rihanna. And Aurora is so spunky! I especially hope you like Wolf & Riding Hood. Adorable!
If you don’t have a copy of our Hansel & Gretel Cone Doll Play Set you can download it here. Simply print the PDF file and follow the instructions on the second page to create this adorable cone doll play set.
The story of Hansel & Gretel below is used in our classes to teach ballet dance steps, good manners and culture. Contact us if you’d like to bring ballet & etiquette to your pre-school. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
700 years ago it rained and snowed for two years and the food could not grow.
Hansel and Gretel are lucky. Their mother showed them how to forage. That’s when you
look for food that grows on accident. Gretel is good at finding and Hansel is good at
collecting. They are a good team. Today, they did not find much to eat.
At home, mom says, “We eat together.” And the children take a nap. When they wake up, they are terribly hungry! They forget everything mom said, and eat everything they can find. Dad comes home and finds them. He says, “Hansel. Gretel. Go to bed.”
They go to bed, but don’t sleep. Instead, Hansel and Gretel listen. Mom says,
“They’d eat more if they foraged alone.” Dad said, “They’re too little to leave
us!” In the morning, mom makes bread and says “Hansel. Gretel. We’re going to
The children had a plan. Gretel watched mom so they didn’t get lost. Hansel tore
their bread into crumbs he dropped behind each step to make a trail they could follow
But the birds were hungry and Hansel said, “shoo!” Gretel said “shhhhhh.” Hansel
said, “Where’s mom?!” Gretel said, “Where is your trail?” They ran about looking
for mom. “Mom! Mom!” but couldn’t find her.
That’s when they got stuck. They tried to move but their feet were glued to the
ground. That’s when the snakes came. The snakes slithered around their feet and ankles.
Their legs and tummies. Their chests and necks! “I’m scared!” said Gretel. “I”m warm!”
said Hansel. That’s when they saw it. A glittering little cottage in the woods. Hansel
asked, “Do you see that?” and Gretel asked “Can you smell that?!”
The little house was made of gingerbread! Coated in frosting, candies and nuts. The
children were usually polite but when they saw the house they didn’t ask permission,
they just started to eat. That’s when a beautiful lady appeared. “Children? I dropped
a bon bon and if you find it, you can have it. COME HERE.”
The children ran into the house and under the table and CRACK. They were in a
cage! The witch laughed and said, “I’ll eat you for supper in three days time!”
Hansel said, “How could she eat us?!” Gretel said, “She’ll have to cook us.”
Hansel answered, “she’ll open the cage and we’ll run!”
The next day, the witch said. “Show me your finger, I’ll see if you’re fat!”
Hansel stuck a twig out the front of the cage. The witch yelled, “Don’t fool me!” She
carried the cage to the kitchen, opened the oven door and the children RAN! But the
house was enchanted! They ran and ran and ran, so much longer than they should have
in a tiny house made of candy.
When they finally passed the front door they got stuck in a puddle! They ran and ran
but stayed in one place. That’s when a tiny duck passed them by. “Ride my back,” he
said. And the children stood on their tiniest feet to cross the water.
Out of the puddle they heard their father calling “Hansel! Gretel” and when he
hugged them he said, “I’ll never let you out of my sight again!”
The children don’t learn the comic ballet Don Quixote until September, however, our beloved San Francisco Ballet is putting this ballet on right now and if anyone has a chance to see it—or if they can’t—I’m blogging out a tiny primer on this, my personal favorite ballet of all time!
As a child, my parents gave me a VHS tape of Baryshnikiov’s production of the ballet with American Ballet Theater. It was remembered as his production not because he choreographed it (that’s usually why you credit someone with a production) but because he directed the video. And it was a very successful VHS, as ballet tapes go. By the grace of YouTube, you can see it in its entirely here! This is the version I dreamed to! Cynthia Harvey’s Kitri is the performance I judge everyone else against. Keep an eye out for Cupid in the second act; Cheryl Yeager’s leggy diety makes it easy to imagine a creature could compel you to love. And, of course, no jumps are as show stopping as Baryshnikov’s Basil! I hope you love it!
I adore Svetlana Zaharova and just recently directed you to watch her in Swan Lake. She’s one of those dancers who has absolutely transcended all technical challenges and her dancing verges on full body acting. Her Kitri is the only other that holds a candle to Harvey. Kitri’s job is to be a body of delight: Her father tries to marry her off to a rich landowner and her reaction (she runs away) has to appear youthful and ebullient instead of selfish. How do you do that through ballet? Watching Zaharova, you’ll ask that, too, and while you’re watching you won’t really have an answer. Zaharova is light as angels. Also, see that this version contains the introduction you’ll see at SF Ballet’s version. In it, Don Quixote falls asleep reading a chivalric book and wakes up when a theif (Sancho Panza) runs through his bedroom with stolen food. He confuses Sancho for a noblemen and set out to see his love Dulcinea, armed with a shaving basin on his head. See it here.
Natalia Osipova jumps like a bird and shouldn’t be ignored for her Kitri—even if I have my prejudices. Her dances are joyous! Also great in this production are the dances with the matador and partner—they’re more balletic than you might find in other versions, which emphasize the more ethnic aspects of the dance—but the way the matador duo get the crowd’s attention with passion is really rare and memorable. See her here.
The heir to the throne of Baryshnikov is a dancer named Sergei Polunin. This wunderkind rose the ranks so fast he told dance publications he was retiring to see what else he could conquer. Like Zaharova, Polunin a way of making you hang on his movements; he creates anticipation. See his variation at the 56 minute mark. He does a jump that takes him 3-4feet in the air and halfway on his side. You’ll hold your breath a moment. Erika Mikirtcheva’s Kitri is a delightful rival to his Basil: she giggles off every impossible hurdle he takes and it’s as if he’s sweating just to get that reaction. See the production here.
Part of what makes Don Quixote magical is the demand that the ballet has others don’t: this one requires the chemistry of dancers and what looks like interaction. It’s highly social in ways other ballets don’t seem to be. It’s a really great night out, even if you’re not a ballet nerd:-)
Hansel and Gretel is a lesser produced ballet and so lesser known. The modern ballet music is hard to find—I, myself, couldn’t find the Edvard Grieg ballet music to download. (You can see a piece to that music in this link at the 35 minute mark.) So, when music is harder to get ballet schools or universities set their productions to the wrong music: like this production by the Lake Erie Ballet School that used music from La Fille Mal Gardee, or this National Youth Ensemble/National Ballet of Cuba production set to Arthur Fielder.
In my classes, I teach the older version of the ballet which uses the music of the German opera by Engelbert Humperdinck. I tell the children ‘long ago you could only see ballet at the opera’ and as opera developed ballet was less of a fixture in it. You can get a sense of what I’m describing from this Idaho Falls Opera production.
I’ve been most inspired by this Washington Ballet production of Hansel and Gretel. In it, you’ll hear the translated opera which acts as background music. Each production takes a little liberty with certain set pieces, and this one puts a lot into the witch and her relationship with the woodland creatures. It’s pretty spectacular.
The IBAM production follows the lead of the modern UK productions by presenting the witch as an angelic vision—they differ from the modern production by giving a lot of room to small children in the corps de ballet.
The more modern productions of the ballet came out of the UK. Celebrity choreographer Liam Scarlett choreographed a production with new music by Dan Jones. The Royal Ballet doesn’t allow their productions on YouTube but you can see videos about their productions via their channel. Here, Scarlett talks about his vision here, the production designer talks about creating the look of the ballet. The Scottish Ballet has a well publicized production and in their trailer you can get a sense of the dreamlike production design and the magical effect of their deceptively angelic witch. It makes the whole thing seem new again.
Stravinsky’s Firebird really piques the children’s imaginations. Do you remember the fad surrounding “Let it Go,” from Disney’s FROZEN? Somehow, their response to Firebird is a similar form of fascination. They play it on the playground! I just love how they get into it!
This 1977 production is my favorite of all those I’m linking you to! It begins with the “birth” of Katschei, which is really intriguing!
As with all the ballets teach the children, I’ve simplified this some. Your children won’t recognize the “jealousy plot” that brews with Rhinehardt offers a flower to Coppelia (the doll). When we dance like Swanilde entering the Inventor’s studio I fail to mention she does so with friends. I also regularly forget the occult undertones of the Inventor’s work (I just say he’s “silly”). Yet, despite literal differences it’s likely the dancers won’t be too bothered with variation. This said, the ballets listed below are incredibly similar to each other so choosing which to watch is a matter of preference: watch a few moments from the middle and see which you prefer.
Peter and the Wolf is such a beloved story it’s inspired at least two major composers to render the story into song. In my class, we begin with the symphony Sergei Prokofiev composed to introduce children to the orchestra. I love the Little Long Playing Record Disney produced, I know I had one as a child. In the class, I use a recording Disney produced for the titular cartoon featuring narration by Boris Karloff. Here is the link to buy and the link to hear in entirety on YouTube. This was also a cartoon you might have seen in your childhood. It doesn’t appear in it’s entirety on youtube–so far as i can find–but there are so many foreign language cartoons of the story there, it’s remarkable! If you haven’t seen the Disney version, maybe you’ve seen this Mel-O-Toon from the 60s.