We recently enjoyed a performance of The Colonial Nutcracker, Performed by Dance Theatre in Westchester, at The Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts.
It was a magical experience for us–the music, the dancing, and the sets were all stunning! Ballet can potentially be challenging for young children but this performance was very accessible. A narrator told the story, which goes a long way towards keeping children engaged. This Nutcracker makes a number of small changes, primarily changing the setting to Colonial America. Mother Ginger was even “from Brooklyn,” which earned a big laugh from the audience, and dropped the classical ballet style long enough to rock-out while her children spun around the stage. My children were also excited by the athletic ballet dancing and the different styles of the various “candies,” the focus of the performance.
If you take your children to the ballet, you can help make the experience more enjoyable and educational by:
- Reading a children’s version of the story: Even if there is narration, children like to know the story in advance. Do not worry about “spoilers”; repeat readings and viewings will only add to their enjoyment. Just think about how many times your child has asked for his or her favorite book or movie! For the Nutcracker, I like this version, by Susan Jeffers. With older children, you can ask questions about the themes and messages of the story. After the performance, ask if any of their ideas or interpretations changed.
- Listening to the score in advance: Any preparation will build your child’s anticipation and also keep her engaged during the performance. Dance around to the piece–imagine how you might choreograph this music! With older children, you can explore the composer and style of music, learn more about the instruments used in each piece, and consider how the music supports the story.
- Learning some of the terminology of ballet and dance: When my daughter was younger, we watched Prima Princessa: Swan Lake. The same production company has also released The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. Or, just search your library or YouTube for other resources about ballet. Older kids may be fascinated to learn about the hard work and training that goes into become a ballerina or may consider why this classical form of dance is still performed today and whether or not it remains a vital form of expression.
- Exploring the historical background and setting: This performance of the Nutcracker took place in Colonial America and framed the battle with the Mouse King as the Battle of Yorktown. A little prior research on the Revolutionary War and colonial traditions adds interest.
- Engaging in hands-on activities: Most children today have probably never seen a nutcracker before: buy some nuts still in the shell and crack them. Make your own no-sew tutu. Learn a few ballet steps. Try the traditional sweets highlighted in the ballet. Craft some ballerina paper snowflakes (version 1, version 2) or nutcrackers with craft sticks (Fireflies and Mudpies), cardboard tubes, or clothespins (The Yule Log), to decorate your own home.
Some more educational posts about The Nutcracker:
- Ideas for Teaching About the Nutcracker (Real Life at Home)
- Christmas Unit: The Nutcracker (Every Star is Different)
The Colonial Nutcracker has one performance at The Brooklyn Center per year. There are many more scheduled children’s and family programs for the beginning of 2015, however! Visit BrooklynCenter.org or call the box office at 718-951-4500 (Tues-Sat, 1pm-6pm). The Target Storybook Series, based on classic and contemporary children’s literature, has titles including The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon (Sunday, March 29, 2015 at 2pm); The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favourites (Sunday, April 19, 2015 at 2pm); Jim Henson’s Dinosaur Train Live: Buddy’s Big Adventure (Sunday, April 26, 2015 at 12pm and 3pm); and The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley (Sunday, May 17, 2015 at 2pm).
Disclosure: Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts has provided tickets for me and a guest, our family is paying for our children’s tickets. As always, all opinions are my own.