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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is Your Child Ready for The Nutcracker?

Kids loved the mice!

I think a lot of parents probably ask themselves "Is my child old enough to attend the Nutcracker?" After attending a family matinee I'd like to offer a few simple suggestions I hope you'll find useful:
  1. Don't make your kids sit and wait in the theater for 30 minutes (or more) before the performance begins.

    Let them enjoy the music, decorations and other kids in the lobby for as long as possible. The show is over 2 hours long so letting them burn off as much energy as possible beforehand is a good idea.

  2. Make sure your child wants to attend.

    If they don't they may act up during some or most of the performance. While I understand wanting to introduce them to the ballet at an early age, do it too soon and you may inadvertently turn them off from ever wanting to attend again. A simple solution is to...

  3. Explain the story to your kids before the day of the show.

    Maybe pick up a storybook and read it to them at bedtime so that not only will you create anticipation for the performance, they will understand what is happening onstage. A little girl to my left was whispering almost constantly to her guardian "Why is that happening?" It wasn't obtrusive, her little voice was so cute, but she was clearly confused by what was taking place onstage.

  4. Consider not what age is appropriate but their maturity level and their ability to sit through a 2 hour and 8 minute performance when deciding if your child is ready for The Nutcracker. If they aren't ready for a full length production taking them to a shorter "abridged" version for kids (if one is available) is a far better solution than forcing them to attend the full production where they, you and the audience members around them will be unable to fully enjoy the performance.

    The little girl to my right got bored about two thirds of the way through the performance. To say she began fidgeting would be an understatement. Among other ways she found to amuse herself were loudly sighing and resting her feet on the two seat backs in front of her then shaking her legs in time with the music. The lady who endured her right foot had to turn around twice to ask her to stop. She was also sliding down in her seat so low that she was basically sitting on the floor with her head on her seat. She did this so dramatically that she fell off completely a couple of times. Eventually she moved on to standing up, letting her seat go up, then she'd sit on the top of the seat in the upright position like a booster chair. At one point she even kicked me in the leg by accident. I really don't think it was her fault though. She simply wasn't mature enough to last through such a long performance. As much as I didn't blame her I'll confess I thought it was incredibly impolite that her guardian barely exerted any effort to convince her to stop kicking the one lady's seat (the rest of the bad behavior she ignored completely) and she never even tried to take her out of the theater to settle her down.

    At the end of the day I don't think it's a question about age appropriateness but rather one of interest. IMO a three year old who wants to be there is going to be a better audience member than a thirty year old who doesn't. There were dozens of children all around me, younger than this little girl, who were mesmerized from beginning to end so in this case I think age is just a number.

  5. Aisle seats might be the right seats.

    If you're determined to go but are unsure if your child is going to be able to sit through the entire performance, go but be sure to get aisle seats. That way if he or she needs a little break you can easily exit the theater without having to walk in front of other patrons to do so.

And here's my review after attending the Ballet San Jose Nutcracker 2010

YAY! I finally attended The Nutcracker Ballet for the first time. It was at the San Jose Performing Arts Center in downtown San Jose, CA. located on Almaden Blvd between Park and West San Carlos. The over 2500 seat theater is less than one block from the light rail line, a block away from the Convention Center, and there are plenty of parking options nearby.

I looked up the address before I left because I wasn't sure I'd be able to spot the theater. Turns out I couldn't miss the huge red sign on the building's exterior and when I walked in I knew I was in the right place because there were nutcracker's everywhere. There were even two large ones you could stand beside and take your photo with.

Ballet slippers hanging on a Christmas tree in the lobby.

To be honest I didn't realize when I purchased my ticket that I was attending a "Family Day" matinee. I didn't mind though, I thought seeing it with kids would add to the fun and excitement. And I was right. It was really fun to see the little girls all dressed up in their party dresses and pull on tu-tus. One little boy in the row ahead of me was wearing a full nutcracker costume! He was adorable. It was also really cute to hear the excitement in their voices out in the lobby before the show, and so many ooohing and ahhing in unison during the performance. They laughed at the mice and all did really well through the first half. After the intermission was a slightly different story.

The Choir and Gift Shop

The show began at 1:30 in the afternoon but there were things to do beforehand. At 12:45 the Mountain View High School Madrigals choir performed in the main lobby and there was a man with a guitar at the other end of the main hallway singing holiday carols. They really set a festive mood!

The gift shop was set up along the main hallway that spans the back of the theater so as you worked your way to the theater entrances to find your seat you couldn't help but stroll past all of the merchandise. I thought it was nice that if you wanted a fairly inexpensive memento there were small "Nutcracker" themed Christmas tree ornaments for as little as $10. I purchased a ridiculously cute "Evil Mouse King" ornament as a souvenir of my first Nutcracker. There were also rows of brightly colored, full sized Nutcrackers, a book, SJ Ballet T-shirts and more.

I had a fantastic seat! I was in the sixth row just right of center stage which may be the best row in the house. Ideally I think you would want to sit from row 4 back. Rows 1-3 seemed like they might be a bit too close and you'd have to tilt your head back and look up to see the stage. Photos are allowed in the lobby areas but not in the theater during the performance. I took this picture of the stage (from my seat) well before the performance began.

The ballet, directed by Dennis Nahat, was enchanting. It took a little getting used to that there is no speaking whatsoever. It did make me realize how much we are able to convey using only facial expressions and body language. Something to consider in your day to day life. Your voice may be saying one thing but what are your face and body language saying? Basically it only reconfirmed what Mark Ferrelll taught me at the MC Workshop I took earlier this year. When you say "It's a pleasure to be here" you should be smiling, not frowning. Every moment the performers are onstage they are acting, especially when they aren't the one in the spotlight. They keep emoting their gleeful expressions, maintain their energy level and continue to create the "mood" for the other dancers.

This image from the Ballet San Jose.org website

I also appreciated the ethnic diversity of the dance company. Reading the program it was fascinating to learn that the dancers come not only from across the United States but also from Argentina, Cuba, Wales, China, Japan, Russia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Australia.

The dancing was really beautiful. I loved the costumes, the accessories, the set designs and even the lighting was something I appreciated because I know so many event lighting companies. Needless to say I was amazed at the athleticism of the dancers. Particularly the dancing "en pointe" (on the tips of the toes like the ballerina in the photo above). I've seen it done on tv and in movies but it's so much more impressive in real life. Equally impressive were the aerial splits by Prince Alexis. In The Nutcracker the lead danseur does a continuous series of them that take him across and around one side of the stage. It was an incredible display of physical strength. I also loved when the children from the Ballet San Jose School played the little mice in the combat scene. They were sooooooo cute!

So there I was trying my best to ignore the little girl with ants-in-her-pants beside me when all of a sudden the adult/woman behind me bent forward to get something out of her purse? I don't know what she was doing. Next thing I know she bonks me in the back of my head! I think it was the front of her head whacking into the back of mine... During the performance! Classic! At that point all I could do was shake my head and LOTI (Laugh on the Inside). Several friends have said I should have gone to an evening performance and both circumstances would have been avoided. Next time I'll know!

Also, a little FYI. I parked at Adobe (I LOVE Adobe Photoshop) whose offices are on Park Ave directly across the street from the theater. I entered the Adobe parking lot on Park Ave and headed down to their basement event parking area. It only cost $5.00, cash only.

So that was my first ballet experience in a nutshell! I had a great time and am very glad I went. The dancers were even more impressive than I'd dreamt they would be. They were so elegant and talented. Though there is a distinction that needs to be made between talent and the dedication it must take to achieve their skill level, which was awe inspiring. If you've never been I would urge you to go at least once. Read the story online or get there early if an abridged version is printed in your program. As an adult you would figure it all out while watching but I think you'll enjoy the show more if you don't have to think too much and can instead simply sit back and soak the performance in.

To learn more about the remaining performances through December 26, 2010 and to purchase tickets CLICK HERE to visit the Ballet San Jose.org website.

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