Quick! See Don Quixote at SFBallet (or see it here)

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:-)

Tickets to SF Ballet’s last weekend with Don Quixote here!

CINDERELLA (Like Nutcracker for the Spring)

The ballet Cinderella is the most popular ballet for children (after Nutcracker, that is). The ballet’s composer, Sergei Prokofiev, was also responsible for Peter and the Wolf, which he designed as an child’s introduction to the orchestra. Despite Prokofiev’s evident interest in bringing children culture, the music of Cinderella doesn’t sound at all like children’s music. It’s moody and modern with patches of darkness that make the magic in the story seem little edgy. Don’t worry, it’s nothing the kids can’t handle. The choreography is cartoonish and loaded with pantomime and character steps for easy reading for any age. Below I’m providing links for three different production of Cinderella so that you might share the ballet with your tiny dancer!

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Sizing Swan Lake to Fit Pre-School

When I talk about “Sizing Ballet Stories to Fit” preschool, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is always the first ballet people ask about. I feel it’s a really tidy example of how treating the actions of the ballet literally can answer the trickier aspects of retelling ballet stories to kids. At the end of most ballet productions of Swan Lake, Odette jumps off a cliff and Siegfried jumps after her. I tell the children what the dancers literally do: they jump. I also add that the sun rises and Odette becomes a magical swan again (which means she can fly) and Siegfried follows her into the sky. Ultimately my storytelling ends ambiguously but the couple are together and free of the villain. Tidy enough. I base my storytelling loosely on the San Francisco ballet production.

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Nutcracker Options for The Younger Set

 

Nutcracker season is upon us! Tchaikovsky’s music is a soundtrack for the winter, Clara’s nutcracker reminds you how magical your favorite toys used to be, and her holiday party is a fantasy model for event planning! How rare for one story to contain so many touchstones—and so many of them known by your dancing preschoolers!

The Bay Area boasts a few local Nutcracker events and productions designed for kids and families. The family productions I mention below either star dance students or are abbreviated productions of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, condensed to favor kids with shorter attention spans. A few even offer teas or photo ops with the cast!

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Peter and the Wolf

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On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of dancing with over 30 new friends at the Mountain View Library! My thanks and gratitude to Miss Sharon McClintock for establishing the program and inviting so many lovely families! Below, read about what we did, a bit about why we did it, and find some links to the material I used so you can keep teaching your child about the rich traditions of Grand Ballet!

Our class began with a circle to remind us all we are a friendly team. Then, the children stretch their hamstrings chasing after a quick little “spider,” they use core muscles to “bake a cupcake,” and they arch their backs like caterpillars eating. Thereafter, we began an overview of the ballet’s story. Peter and the Wolf is the subject of two major compositions. We began with the symphony Sergei Prokofiev composed to introduce children to the orchestra. I used a recording Disney produced to suit a cartoon you might remember from your childhood. London’s Royal Ballet School has a wonderful production of the ballet you can see here.

First, the children learn Peter’s soldier-like posture and sharp marching. Then they learn the quick wrist movements of the bird who flitters in the woods, the waddle of the duck, and the pas de chat of the cat. Then we practice muscle contractions to mimic the posture of the stealthy wolf. Then, because the kids had demonstrated focus, I rewarded them with a silly dance — we spun to the spinning dance and then danced around and jumped around until it was time for reverence (our gracious thank you bows). We finished with a puppet show set to the other famous Peter and the Wolf, Norway’s Peer Gynt, by Edvard Grieg. The puppets moved to the song, “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”
I teach etiquette and ballet at preschools around the South Bay. If you’re interested in bringing Dance with Miss Sara to your preschool, please contact me: BalletChalet@gmail.com.

Thank you so much for letting me dance with your wonderful children!

Warmly,

Miss Sara

Ballet Stories: Sizing them to Fit

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Every so often, my dancers will return to their parents with stories form the Grand Ballet. When they do, it opens up a lot of questions. Some questions are direct, like “Where does this story come from?” Other questions might be inspired by the messenger like, “Who is Donkey Hotay?” Regardless, I’m here to help!

I’m beginning this blog to answers typical “more information” questions about the ballets I teach. It’s lovely that most of these ballets are old enough to have full videos online so I’ll offer links possible. I also hope to help explain the way I tell these stories to the children to inform how you might share these ballets with them. This culture is a precious thing to share!

Ballets are not always G-rated affairs so I alter stories to make them more accessible for the children. I report on this in our weekly emails so I won’t delve into specifics here, but I do feel a responsibility to explain that, because I’ve put softer words on the stories, the children’s understandings of them are broad and subject to interpretation—not unlike the storytelling motions of ballerinas and cavaliers (boy ballerinas). If you choose to show your children the ballets I link you to here, and I certainly hope you do, they may ask you questions and for that I’d like to offer what I can to prepare you.

I tend to tell the stories in vague terms; saying things like “then she went to a place” instead of “she died and haunted the forest.” Though, not all narrative alterations are created equal. In lieu of telling the children Basil faked his death to get Kitri’s father’s approval to marry her, I told them he respectfully asked her father’s permission. I did this because it’s preferable to give children an example of good etiquette (i.e. how to do it) than to give a bad example AND explain why it’s bad. (It’s a great scene in the ballet but I’m not in the business of teaching mischief.)  That said, I really changed the climax of this comic ballet. However, if you see the ballet, they are going to see the difference ask questions. However, they will also see that the ballets have a great deal more story to them than I can fit into our classes. So you can always say “Maybe Miss Sara didn’t have time for every detail in the story.” And if you said this, you’d always be telling the truth!

I bonded with my father and mother a great deal over ballet. They took me to productions in San Francisco and Oakland, they bought me VHS tapes (remember those) and they talked about what they saw so I always had examples of observation and recall. If you don’t enjoy ballet, that’s fine, ballet can be an acquired taste. But like movies, ballets come in different genres and I contend there’s a ballet out there for almost everyone.

I hope this is a way to learn more about your lovely child and the culture s/he is gaining from Dance with Miss Sara. I miss them each and all as I type this! I hope you’ve having a wonderful weekend!

Thank you for reading!

Warmly,

Miss Sara