The audience that traipsed in to Memorial Auditorium Tuesday morning to watch The Nutcracker was just a little younger than the normal crowd.
Hundreds of elementary school students got to watch an abbreviated version of the production performed by cast members of the Carolina Ballet thanks to a grant from the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County.
Tiffany Stuart is principal of Aversboro Road Elementary, one of five Title I Wake County schools that sent students to the performance. She said the chance to send students to see a live performance was more than just a fun field trip for the second-graders from her school who attended. “It’s a cultural opportunity that they may or may not get to do. This is integrated into a unit they are doing on cultures, teaching them about other cultures and how to appreciate cultural differences and to foster that cultural understanding,” Stuart said.
And, she said, students are exposed to the arts, something that is getting harder and harder to do in the public schools. “They get to see the lighting and the costumes. They get to see a different art form and this is another chance to expose them to the arts,” Stuart said.
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The professionals at the Carolina Ballet also enjoy the unique performance. Students actually see only the first act of the ballet, which tells the story of a child’s fantastic Christmas dream.
“We are thrilled to be able to do this. It’s important to us because we are committed to being part of the community and to providing the opportunity for people to have an experience with the ballet,” said Katie Davis, the Carolina Ballet’s education director. “So many of us remember going to see it when we were children. And one of our regular performances is often cost-prohibitive, so this really gives the children a chance to see a ballet up close.”
Davis said the field trip also gives schools a chance to supplement their arts education offerings. “With so much of what’s happening in education, arts are becoming an extra. But arts are a central core part of life and a child’s education. No video game or tablet app can replace watching a live performance,” Davis said.
Just over 100 third-grade students from Wendell Elementary attended Tuesday’s performance. Lynn Atkins, the school’s dance instructor, led the trip. She said her dance students had been preparing for the trip for some time. “Prior to our trip, I prepared them for what to expect and what to watch for. We talked about setting and scenery and that, in ballet, bodies tell the story, not voices,” Atkins said.
Atkins said she had students talk to her afterward about some of the things they noticed in the performance, but she said the most gratifying aspect of the trip was the parent turnout. Parents were invited to attend with their student, though they had to pay their own way.
“I had one student in my class that I didn’t think was really all that into dance,” said Atkins. “But when we got there, his mother and his father and his aunt were there to go to the ballet with him. I thought that was just wonderful that it could turn into a family event as well.”
Money to pay for the trip came through a grant called the Wheels on the Bus grant, funding by Wake County, Duke Energy and Bank of America. Eleanor Oakley, CEO of the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County, said the idea behind the grant was to pay for the costs that each school would have to cover for a field trip like that. Transportation is the primary cost schools incur, but Oakley said there was enough funding to cover the cost of admission as well.
The trip to the ballet was one of several field trip opportunities schools could select from. The grant aims to provide opportunities to expose students to the arts and sciences with field trips to major museums, historical sites and events such as the ballet.