North Bend students nutty over the Nutcracker

December 10, 2008

By Laura Geggel

 

The Nutcracker ballet has several improbable story twists — a wooden doll comes to life, a ballet slipper kills a giant rat king and Clara is transported to a kingdom of dancing snowflakes. 

The Nutcracker’s story is almost 200 years old, but the second-grade students in Diana Balsley’s North Bend Elementary classroom sat on the edge of their seats Dec. 4 as they first learned about the ballet’s story, costume design and music by composer Peter Tchaikovsky.

 

Pacific Northwest Ballet Manager Kayti Bouljon puts the Nutcracker mask on Sarakaitlyn Mitchell, while Asa Cheney (left) and Austin Manos wait their turns.

Pacific Northwest Ballet Manager Kayti Bouljon puts the Nutcracker mask on Sarakaitlyn Mitchell, while Asa Cheney (left) and Austin Manos wait their turns.

 

Kayti Bouljon, community education manager with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, showed the students photos and props from the production.

“Can anyone guess how many hours the Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers dance a day?” Bouljon asked the second graders.

One student shouted out 30 hours, before Bouljon reminded him there were only 24 hours in a day and that people typically sleep of a third of it. 

Still, the children were impressed when they learned the answer — 8.5 hours.

As she showed students the costumes, Bouljon explained dancers only put on their costumes for dress rehearsals.

“All of these costumes start out as drawings,” Bouljon said.

There are 200 costumes in the Nutcracker and about 700 different pieces — enough to fill an enormous closet. Each outfit has several hooks and eyes, allowing it to fit people of different sizes. It took a year to design, cut and sew all of the costumes — especially since there are seven Claras and seven nutcracker princes who split up the 45 performances the ballet does each year. 

Some of the other roles include younger dancers.

“We have to make sure students can go home every couple of nights to do their homework,” Bouljon said. 

The mask worn by the nutcracker prince produced the largest amount of commotion among the second-grade students. All 22 students tried the mask on their heads.  

“Can you imagine how hard it would be to jump and turn and lift ladies wearing this mask?” Bouljon asked. 

She explained how the mask was made out of a spongy material that allowed the dancer to see through the cheeks of the mask. The mask’s eyes rest at about the dancer’s forehead, Bouljon said.

Ballet and point shoes also circulated the room. The Pacific Northwest Ballet goes through about 500 pairs of shoes in their 45 shows.

“Can you dye them turquoise?” asked Carley Pease.

“You can dye them any color you want,” Bouljon said. “They’re meant to cover your foot tightly like a sock.”

The education did not stop or begin with Bouljon’s presentation. Students had the opportunity to spell words and phrases like “McCaw Hall Opera House,” “orchestra instruments” and “Peter Tchaikovsky” for extra credit on their spelling tests. They also learned how to waltz  in 4/4 and 3/4 time. 

Balsley has taken her students to see the Nutcracker for 10 of the 25 years the Pacific Northwest Ballet has performed it. In the past, the Snoqualmie Valley Schools Foundation funded the Nutcracker workshops, but the North Bend Elementary PTA paid the $300 this year for Bouljon to come educate three different classes about the ballet.

Each student paid the $22 ticket and transportation fee to see the Nutcracker at McCaw Hall at Seattle Center Dec. 11. 

Parent chaperone Rhonda Mitchell has seen the Nutcracker three times with Balsley’s class. This year, she and her daughter Sarakaitlyn dressed up with the entire class to see the show at McCaw Hall. The students enjoy the unit as much as they like seeing the ballet, she said.

“They’re just not going to the Nutcracker. They know all about it,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s a great educational experience.”

Before the class saw the performance, Bouljon told them they would get to decide if Clara’s adventures had really happened.

“It’s kind of a dream inside a dream,” Bouljon said. “It’s your job as audience members to decide if it is a dream or if it was real.”

 

Reach reporter Laura Geggel at 392-6434 .221 or lgeggel@snovalleystar.com.

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