Behind Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker” – Spotlight on Community Outreach

Oakland Ballet Company is pleased to bring you: “Behind Graham Lustig’s ‘The Nutcracker’” as part of our “Behind Oakland Ballet” blog.  Throughout December, we will be posting interviews with professional dancers, staff, volunteers, and superfans!  Make sure to check out these fun, behind-the-scenes features and learn why Oakland Ballet Company is so loved by our community.  

Students delight in OBC in-school performance, ballet lesson

by Kate Fratar

Cleveland ElementaryEverything is beautiful at the ballet.

Nearly 400 students from Cleveland Elementary School gathered for morning assembly on Friday, December 13, and were treated to a VIP performance by Oakland Ballet Company dancers.

Students were captivated by the athleticism and grace of the presentation.

“Kids are just like sponges,” observed Principal Peter Van Tassel of the students’ awed response. “They’re ready to absorb everything that comes to them.”

This is Van Tassel’s first year with Cleveland Elementary, and he arranged for OBC’s visit based on hearing the reviews of the company’s past demonstrations.

“It was something that the community really wanted to return,” he said.

Started by Artistic Director Graham Lustig in 2010 with his arrival to the company, OBC’s in-school performances teach Bay Area students about the life and training of professional ballet dancers. They are quickly becoming as much a part of OBC’s Nutcracker tradition as its annual performance of the famed holiday ballet at the Paramount Theatre.

A group of four dancers describe the history of ballet – from its birth in the noble courts of Italy in the sixteenth century to the founding of the Académe Royale de Danse by Louis XIV of France – demonstrate basic steps, and create a small piece of choreography using students’ dances moves.

As a finale, dancers perform excerpts from Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker and wrap up the program with a Q&A.Outreach

With 8 in-school performances scheduled this month over four dates, OBC is reaching roughly 3200 students with its special ballet curriculum.

“The whole point of art is to give it to the community,” said OBC Ballet Master, Bat Abbit, who attended Friday’s performance. He added that the company is excited to share its work in a format tailor-made to interest and inspire young audiences.

“Dance is so naturally captivating,” continued Abbit, noting, “because it’s so physical, it holds kids’ attention well.”

Many OBC dancers have participated in similar youth outreach programs previously in their careers. For them, the school visits are reminiscent of how they discovered dance.

“That first experience can be life changing,” said Marte Osiris Madera, who performed the Spanish variation and recalled how his curiosity in the arts was peaked.

“That kind of stays with you,” he added.

Dancers also acknowledge that there is something to the familiarity and holiday magic of The Nutcracker that helps capture their student audiences.

“Nutcracker is such an accessible ballet for younger kids,” noted Peter Hershey, who danced the role of the Nutcracker Prince alongside Daniella Zlatarev as Marie.

Kids, Hershey explained, easily relate to the ballet’s dreaminess and can indulge their imagination with the performance.

The wonderment in their reaction spreads its own kind of cheer.

“For me, it’s all for the audience, for the kids,” said Zlatarev with a smile. “That’s something,” she added, “to make them happy.”

 To see Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker”, get your tickets here.

To learn more about Oakland Ballet Company’s “Discover Dance” educational outreach program and how to host OBC at your school, visit our website.

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