Arts Academy students perform a creative reimagining of ‘The Nutcracker’Feb 05, 2024 02:50PM ● By Jet Burnham
Advantage Arts Academy third graders perform a ribbon dance routine as part of a creative production of “The Nutcracker Suite.” (Photo courtesy of Kelly Simonsen)
Basketballs bounced, paper plates flapped and kazoos buzzed in Advantage Arts Academy’s production of “The Nutcracker Suite.” The unique take on the classic show was reimagined and directed by AAA’s Arts Integration Specialist Cindy Jahnsen.
“I don't like to do things that are expected— I want someone to come be like, ‘Oh, I've never seen that before,’” Jahnsen said. “I love bringing things alive for the kids that they think are so much fun and so different and unexpected. And I really do feel like they had a lot of fun with this.”
Each grade performed a unique interpretation of a song from Tchaikovsky’s ballet with unexpected instruments and movement.
Second graders slapped paper plates together, first graders did a routine with ribbon wands and third graders, with full body puppets, danced like birds.
Jahnsen had the fourth graders use boomwhackers and kazoos to perform their version of “The Nutcracker Suite March.”
“I wanted an instrument that was different and not heard very often,” Jahnsen said. “I also wanted the instrument to be a surprise for the audience, something unexpected, easy to teach in a short amount of time and fun to play. The kazoo was the answer.”
Just one scene of the production featured traditional ballet, performed by AAA kindergarten teacher Cassandra Bateman (Miss Cass), a trained ballet dancer.
Fifth graders performed “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” in a rhythmic basketball routine in which they dribbled, passed, caught and tossed colorful basketballs to the beat of the music. Sixth graders performed a complex body percussion routine to “Waltz of the Flowers.”
“I think fifth grade and sixth grade are the most difficult,” Jahnsen said. “They really have to have that hand eye coordination. And they have to be able to hear and feel the musical beat in their bodies in order to keep the rhythms together.”
Students learned age-appropriate skills in music, instruments and movement through concepts such as steady beat, melody, body control and visual representation of music. They also learned the elements of a story including characters, story sequence, theme, details and mood. To introduce each scene, sixth grade students provided narration, adapted from Sally K. Albrecht’s arrangement of “The Nutcracker Suite: A Mini-Musical.”
At AAA, students have many opportunities to learn skills and perform them for others.
They learn about the entire process of a production, from conception, to rehearsals, to timing the entrances and exits, to being quiet backstage, to keeping track of props.
“It really teaches the students what a real production feels like,” Jahnsen said. “As an art school, we really feel like those are really important parts of any production: the whole picture, the background, the backstage, the practices and the effort that goes into every performance.”
Other AAA performances celebrating the holiday season included a choir club concert and a reader’s theater performance of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss.
The reader’s theater, which was performed for each grade and for parents, featured sixth grade students reading the lines of the book and using their facial expressions, emotions and intonation to tell the story. Kelli McBride, AAA’s drama specialist, said a reader’s theater is a fun way for students to practice reading skills.
“Repeated reading is excellent for fluency, so we're teaching as we're having fun,” McBride said. “[Students] enjoy it. The part that's really fun is that they don't necessarily realize that it's a learning strategy—we're just performing and being storytellers.” λ