Lastega ja lastele

Auhinnaga „Lastega ja lastele“ täname ja tunnustame inimesi ja organisatsioone, kelle uued algatused või pikemaajaline tegevus on positiivselt mõjutanud laste ja perede käekäiku.
Tunnustusauhinna taotluste voor on avatud 15. aprillini.

Esita taotlus

But those men are not wearing any trousers!

On 22 February, at the initiative of and with support from SEB Heategevusfond, children from Estonian substitute homes and safe houses went to see a production of the ballet “Coppelia”, based on the short story “The Sandman” by E. T. A. Hoffmann, at the Estonian National Opera. A total of 229 children from Tartu, Tallinn and Viljandi, from Harju, Pärnu and Ida-Viru counties went to the theatre.

Costumes and hairdos

For quite a few children, this was their first visit to the theatre, and they prepared with care. They knew that during a ballet performance no talking is allowed. On the other hand, the ballerinas wear those wonderful dresses all girls dream about. Some of the children had seen “The Nutcracker”, so they told others what to expect from a ballet.

The children started preparing for the visit already on the previous day, choosing dresses, white shirts and creased trousers, even ties. It is nice to see that children know you need to dress up a bit when going to the theatre and that this is a kind of ritual that helps set the festive mood. Teachers have noticed that at moments like this, 12-year-old Ira turns into a truly motherly older sister for her 8-year-old brother Nikita. She chooses clothes for Nikita and dresses him (though the boy could very well do this on his own) like a little child – and Nikita loves the attention, so they are both happy and in a good mood.

Laura put on a light pink party dress with a black bodice, white tights and black lacquer shoes, looking like a ballet dancer herself. From some homes, even the youngest children had been taken along to the ballet, and their party clothes were no poorer than those of the older girls and boys. Little Andre chose his own party clothes, proudly repeating that he is going to the theatre. In the morning, the dressing up “ritual” continued with hairdos, and everyone was really excited for the event. Once the hairdos were done, the trip could start.

A tour of Estonia

The children were impressed with the fancy theatre-house. First, they were shown around the theatre. Some of the children, who had seen “The Nutcracker” in the autumn, were already familiar with the rooms. During the tour, they recalled the previous tour, pointing out what had changed in the meantime – for example, the placement of wigs in the dressing room. The children, who saw the stage and backstage area for the first time, were impressed with how big everything is. During the tour, the guests were taken to the highest floor of Estonia as well. The children were like courageous mountaineers, happily climbing the stairs, higher and higher.

It was nice to see girls taking photos of everything with their phones. Quiet and shy 7-year-old Jaana surprised her teacher with her courage, as she kept asking the tour guide why something is like this and something like that.

The props storage room and backstage area were also very exciting for the children. When meeting the dancers, the little ones learned that a false nose and false hair can be put on people with the help of make-up. Now they have seen and touched it all!

The teachers were also impressed by the great 4-year-old boy who had some pretty good questions to ask from the dancers. A year ago, this boy only used nouns, formed very few simple sentences, and did not dare to speak to any strangers. Now, he kept asking great questions from a total stranger, sincerely wondering, for example, why the man does not have his own real hair and nose...

Kuldar also really enjoyed the props warehouse, which he saw for the first time. Many small boys could not believe these things are not real, as they all seemed so real.

The children were excited to see the dancers and how make-up was applied to them, and were delighted to touch with their own hands the dresses and boots the actors wore on the stage.

The ballet was enchanted with music and costumes

When the lights went down and the hall became quiet, everyone was excited to see what would appear from behind the curtains. But the curtains did not open straight away, so little Andre was worried why they were not moving. After the overture, the curtains finally moved and the fairy-tale could begin.

All children had been given programmes, which for “Coppelia” are especially thorough and exciting. Three-year-old Juuli and 4-year-old Andre never once trusted their programmes to anyone else, but only gave their “property” to the teacher for a moment – when they took photos together with the ballet dancers.

The programme stated that the first act takes place on a town square, and a mysterious girl, who is actually a puppet, appears on the balcony of a house. With some help from the teachers, the children already knew that, but the male lead, who wanted to meet this unknown beauty, did not. The result was a series of events that the children rooted for with their bodies and souls.

Watching a ballet takes quite a lot of patience from children who have very little theatre experience, but the beautifully dressed ballet dancers and young men in fancy costumes were successful in attracting the children’s attention right from the very beginning. The children especially enjoyed the scenes in act two, at the house of the puppet maker Coppelius, where strange robots and mechanic toys offered lots of excitement, but also funny moments. The spectacular scene in which Coppelius tried to revive his puppet caused quite a stir, ending with an unexpected loud bang, which, in turn, caused even more excitement in the audience. The children eagerly rooted for the escape of the main characters from the puppet maker’s house as well. The third act, which only included dance performances, later made them talk about how difficult it is for the dancers to perform and how the seemingly easy job on the stage actually requires so much hard work and many long hours put in by the actors.

At first, some of the teachers were a little worried about how the little “theatre debutantes” would endure this two and a half hour performance; but, as the acts were short, most of the children held up nicely. Little Juuli shortened the last act with a nap. A first grade girl with a hearing impairment, who generally is pretty restless, surprised her teacher by focusing on the events taking place on stage throughout the entire performance. Not even once did she start fidgeting or doing anything else: it was easier for her to watch the movement and dancing, and it held her attention her more than a drama performance, which is difficult for her to understand due to her impairment.

Those who sat close to the stage could see every expression on the face of the dancers, as well as their every little movement very well. The girls watched every dance step with care, their feet quietly moving along. They must have dreamed they were on the stage themselves like those beautiful ballet dancers. The boys watched the first two acts with rapt attention. During the third act they became a bit distracted, every now and then admiring the books they had been given as presents.

“I want to see with my own eyes...”

The teachers noted that each time the children’s attention span and ability to focus gets better. Thirteen-year-old Artjom watched the entire performance, and thought it was kind of cool at the end of the day, even though he was a bit bored at times. The fact that Artjom himself wanted to come to the theatre together with his younger sister and brother is a big step forward, in his teacher’s opinion.

Thirteen-year-old Martin, who is mostly rather negative about any events and sure to let everyone know about this, also surprised the mother of his family. This time, he expressed his wish to go and see the ballet, even though some of the boys at the children’s village had said ballet is boring. Martin hadn’t seen a ballet before, and said: “I was invited along, so I want to see with my own eyes if it is boring.” At the end of the day, Martin was very happy with both the performance and the backstage tour, saying he now knows how many people need to work together so that performances like this could be shown to the audience. “So this is why theatre tickets are so expensive, I guess,” he added.

A mother of a family summarised the effect of ballet on children very nicely. “Our everyday life is a bit different – there is a little anxiety and confusion, the children sometimes have difficulties with studying and behaving, and a few other things that are not always the easiest. And then you watch the ballet for more than two hours, forgetting everything that troubles you,” she wrote in the feedback about the performance. The adults who watched the performance together with the children were surprised that the children are maybe even more interested in ballet than drama productions and hope to experience more events of this type.

The girls got to feel like princesses

After the performance, the children attended a ballet class. Some of the girls had been there before and were looking forward to trying on the beautiful costumes and practise standing in ballet slippers. This was obviously the highlight of the day for the girls – to feel like a ballet dancer and a princess. Ele and Tatjana, the biggest ballet enthusiasts from one family, danced till they got blisters on their feet, so they had to put bandages on at home in the evening. But this did not prevent them from eagerly demonstrating the ballet steps and postures, and everything else, they had learned at ballet class, to the smaller children.

An 8-year-old girl was impatiently waiting for the ballet class, dreaming about trying on a real ballet gown. She enjoyed the class very much, but afterwards, stated that she would actually like to be a folk-dancer, not a ballet dancer: ballet is very hard, and it is difficult to stand up straight in the slippers.

They also took photos with the actors. The little girls were really happy posing with the ballet dancers.

“But those men are not wearing any trousers!”

After the ballet, the children admitted it was not at all that difficult to understand the content as they had initially thought. A 12-year-old girl thought the dancers were great actors and their faces showed well whether they were surprised, sad or happy.

The first reaction of a kindergarten-age brother and sister when the curtains were lifted: “But those men are not wearing any trousers!” But during the intermission, when the dancers came to the cafe to see the children, the latter got to see with their own eyes that they were all wearing trousers. One little boy thought a man was dancing with a bib on...

Andra said: “I liked the beautifully dressed dancers on the stage and the sudden loud bang, too. I jumped up from my seat and Martin and Aleksandra also jumped up. We weren’t afraid of the bang; it was fun, and we asked our teacher what it was...”

The girls said they liked the beautiful, colourful and glittery dresses and the beautiful dances. The boys admired the loud bangs and stage effects. Randy and Marcus liked the tin soldier in the puppet maker’s room. They praised the stage design as well.

Some of the older boys wanted to know why the groom wanted to have that puppet for a while. So the teacher tried to explain to them that the groom was so fascinated with the beauty of the puppet that he forgot about his bride for a moment.

Tatjana thought ballet is a very graceful dance. The children said that even though the music made them a little sad at times, all in all, everything is “terribly beautiful”. The children were mesmerised for quite a while after the end of the performance and this could not have been only because of the ballet dancers and the dancing, as the children had fallen silent already at the first sounds of the violin.

Dancing is hard work

On the way back home, it was discussed with the children that ballet is a work of art, expressed via dancing and music. And if you watch and listen carefully, you can see how the dancers, the dances and the music express joy and sadness, good and evil during the performance. This is evident from the faces of the dancers, their posture and expressiveness, and the rhythm of the music.

The children also wondered how the feet of the dancers can tolerate all this dancing and not blister up, and how they can dance on their toes for that long. Children realised you need to start learning ballet at a very young age and can only become a good dancer if you practise consistently. The children broadened their horizons and learned new things about ballet, and expressed their thoughts and feelings about ballet and the performance with the help of what they saw and experienced.

After the performance, they got to choose a children’s book as a present. Juuli got “Sipsik”, which she did not put down until at home. The whole way back, she had her two important things with her: the book and the programme. The teachers noted that there were books for older children as well, and that they are really glad to see books that are normally too expensive for many families. On the way home, many children were busy browsing through and reading the books. And in the evening, the teachers read them stories from the new books before bedtime.

The theatre provides a break from the daily routine

Before bedtime, Jaana put on a ballet skirt and performed a show for the others. After her performance, 7-year-old Renzo became sad as he had made the wrong decision and stayed home. Perhaps when Jaana starts school in the autumn, she should be encouraged to take up dancing, her teacher thought.

The teachers admitted that the opportunity to go to the theatre and experience a cultural event helps to balance the daily routine of school and the safe house, which can be burdensome at times with their many rules. The more they go to the theatre, the more the children start enjoying the performances – at many homes, children no longer need to be cajoled into going. Instead, they are glad to go and look forward to new performances. The younger the children are when introduced to the theatre, the more they are interested in everything – they get inspiration to do something, maybe even be on the big stage in the future.

As with all trips, this one also proved that cooperation is necessary in order to make sure that everybody feels good.

The children who had not seen ballet at a theatre before thought it must be so hard to stand on your toes for that long, even though the dancers have practised it for a long time and it is their job. One thing definitely became clearer: every job needs to be done properly and practised a lot to get a good result. Some jobs are harder and some easier – these dancers have chosen their own jobs and, in doing so, give lots of beauty and pleasure to others.

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