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Knowing one’s Audience:
WVMS Attends the Ballet

San Jose, CA, Decmber 12, 2012

‘Tis the season—for family, joy, laughter…and field trips.  West Valley Middle School students experienced the magic of The Nutcracker on Friday, December 7th as part of an all-school field trip designed to expose the children to live theatre.  Though it was not the San Francisco Ballet’s interpretation of Clara and her brave soldier’s story, it was indeed a wonderful experience for the young students to engage in both holiday cheer and a bit of world culture.

Dressed in their Sunday-best, the entire school ventured to the ballet in charter busses with very small bathrooms (as one middle school student, who will remain nameless, pointedly mentioned).  Most admirably, the boys wore button-up shirts; some brave souls even adorned ties for the event.  Their female peers—eager for an excuse to dress-up—looked darling in their dresses and tights, boots and fur coats.  As the photos display, it was a most charming site.  Apart from school formals and special awards banquets, students simply do not “dress” for school. It is decisively uncool.

Most admirably, the boys wore button-up shirts; some brave souls even adorned ties for the event. Most admirably, the boys wore button-up shirts; some brave souls even adorned ties for the event.

Now that such a picture has been painted for you, please imagine the seriousness the occasion had called for.  While the students scramble into the seats at the lights’ flickered warning, the music begins to play.  The drama builds as Clara’s Godfather presents her with a nutcracker doll.  It continues to build as she dances amongst the shadows and play things.  It reaches a dramatic point when the rats—as large as human males, and certainly larger than little Clara—begin to torment her with their dancing.  It comes to a crescendo as the Nutcracker comes to life in order to fend off the King Rat from antagonizing his beloved owner.  Students briefly sigh with relief.

However, somewhere between the slaying of the King Rat and the dolls that magically come to life, the Director of the production had an epiphany: in an audience full of adolescent students (for West Valley was not the only school exposing its students to a bit of culture), it was time to add some flair.  The other rats, though quite accomplished dancers, were instructed to perform a new style of dance that has become a hit in the cyber world: Gangnam Style.

West Valley Middle School students journeyed up to San Francisco to see the Nutcracker West Valley Middle School students journeyed up to San Francisco to see the Nutcracker.

If you haven’t heard of it, yet, the reason is probably because it’s quite a new and, well, a very playful dance.  In fact, it’s decidedly silly.  That is not to say that the rest of the production verged on silliness; it simply stated the fact that with an audience full of children in the middle of a Friday morning, the Director paid attention to his or her audience.  I can hear the squeals of laughter whenever I think of it.  The mixture of something so traditional, such as the foundation of the ballet, and so contemporary, such as the rats’ style of dancing, also says a great deal about the evolving culture in America.

In a society where reality television is king to most other broadcasts; in a culture that is defined by its ability to communicate despite language barriers through the use of technology, as the Korean “Gangnam Style” singer PSY has demonstrated in America; and in a community that seeks its own traditions, The Nutcracker’s mixture of contemporary and traditional elements made for an entirely American cultural experience for West Valley Middle School.  One that its students will forever remember whenever they hear or think about Clara and her magical nutcracker.