A Yoga & Creative Movement Class Inspired by the Traditional Christmas Ballet
Tchaikovsky's score, which premiered in Russia on December 18, 1892 in St. Petersburg, is lively, intense, and evocative of the E.T.A. Hoffman story that inspired the composition. This lesson plan could be taught in two "acts," and offers children exposure to classical music and poses that allow them to become the many beloved characters of the ballet. If they are not familiar with the story first, I would suggest the following media (click for links to Amazon):
-Nutcracker, by E.T.A. Hoffman, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
-The Pacific Northwest Ballet Presents: The Nutcracker (book with photographs)
-The Nutcracker (1997, starring Darci Kistler) DVD
-The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet, by Deborah Hautzig (for younger children, abbreviated tale, easier reading)
I realize it's much easier to follow along and understand the poses when there are pictures, especially when they are "variations" of traditional yoga poses, so I've included photos this time. Unfortunately, just me, and I'm not as cute as kids would be in the poses, but I don't have access to any children at the moment. The only open space for pictures is on our cold, wet, icy roof, so it was one take and go! I've included links to music that can be played in snippets with each pose to add to your class. Enjoy!
Guests are marching through the snowy night to the Stahlbaum family's Christmas party.
Music: The Nutcracker Overture
March in place, backwards, and march in a line or circle with the other students.
Clara and her brother Fritz, and their parents are trimming the Christmas tree as guests arrive to the party. They reach up high to put ornaments on the tree, and then bend down low to place gifts under the tree.
Music: The Nutcracker: The Christmas Tree
Trimming the Tree Pose
(Upward Reach/Urdvha Hastasana
Repeat several times, breathing in as you reach up and out as you fold to the floor.
Fritz receives a hobby horse as a gift. He gallops around the room, shouting loudly and frightening some of the smaller children.
Music (for next pose too) : The Nutcracker: The Children's Gallop
Fritz's Horse Pose (Horse Kicks/Shakti Kicks) Begin in Downward Dog with hands firm on the floor and knees bent. Kick both legs up, trying to hit your seat with your heels. Repeat several times.
Clara receives a Nutcracker from her godfather, Drosselmeier. It is her favorite gift, and she is quite upset when Fritz breaks it, but Drosselmeier fixes it for her. She leaves him under the Christmas tree when she goes to sleep.
Music: See previous pose
Nutcracker Pose (Mountain Pose/Tadasana)
Stand tall and straight as a wooden doll.
Lion's Breath Breathe in deeply, breathing out through a wide open mouth, tongue sticking out as far as possible.
Clara wakes up in the middle of the night and goes to the parlor to check on her Nutcracker. She finds herself shrinking--or everything around her to be growing! Giant mischievous mice begin creeping out of the shadowy corners. Eventually the Christmas tree rises up into the night.
Music: Departure of the Guests (at around 3:30 you hear the clock strike 12, and then mice make their entry. At 4:35, Clara and even the mice watch in awe as the Christmas tree grows)
Mouse Pose (Chair Pose/Utkatasana)
Sit back as though in a chair, with feet together. Wiggle fingers in front of your cheeks. Turn side to side. Try lifting your heels and moving on tiptoes as you sneak around.
An army of tin soldiers comes to life. Under the direction of Clara's Nutcracker, who has also become life-sized, they battle the mice, who are led by the Mouse King. As the battle becomes more and more chaotic, Clara removes her shoe and throws it at the Mouse King, who tumbles to the ground as his mice retreat, the battle lost.
Music: The Nutcracker: The Battle
Tin Soldier Pose (Warrior 2/Virabhadrasana 2)
Stand in a deep lunge with back foot firmly planted. Use one hand to salute and the other arm extended over straight back leg. Listening to the battle music, alternate between Tin Soldier and Mouse.
Clara's Nutcracker has become a handsome Prince. He leads her through a pine forest, where snow begins to fall and the snowflakes tumble and dance around them.
Music: The Nutcracker: Waltz of the Snowflakes
Swirling Snowflakes (Standing Twist)
Stand with feet planted, arms open and palms facing up. Twist from the waist, side to side. When you start to feel dizzy, drift slowly to the floor, where it might feel nice to lay in the snow and make snow angels!
Clara and the Prince leave the snowy forest and arrive in the Land of Sweets, where they are ushered in by golden angels, and greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy, who invites them to watch as the inhabitants of the Land of Sweets perform for them.
Music: The Nutcracker: Act II, Introduction
Angel Pose (Tiptoe Balance)
Stand with feet together, raise heels and balance as you slowly move your wings up and down. Try moving in a circle with the other angels, still on tiptoes and taking very small steps. This is called "bourree" in ballet.
Clara and the Prince sit down to watch the divertissements, a presentation of candies and sweets from around the world. First to dance are the Chocolates from Spain. They're dressed in elegant red and black, and proudly strut with their castanets and fans, like flamenco dancers.
Music: The Nutcracker, Act II: Chocolate (Spanish)
Chocolate (Low Lunge Variation)
Step one foot forward and bend deeply at the knee until the kneecap of the back leg rests gently on the floor. With one hand on the hip of the back leg, use the other hand to demonstrate the flourish of a bright fan above. Try on both legs.
Next to perform is the Arabian Coffee. With slow, fluid movements, the dancers demonstrate flexibility and grace.
Music: The Nutcracker, Act II: Coffee (Arabian)
(One-leg Upward Dog, Standing Splits, Full Splits/Hanumanasana)
Move slowly into these deep stretches that open up the front of the body and the legs. Start in Upward Dog or Cobra Pose and bend one knee at a time, pointing toe toward the top of the head. Next, from a forward fold, raise one leg up high into standing splits, and then switch legs. Finally, from runner's hamstring stretch, slide the front heel forward until you need to stop and breathe. Repeat on the other side.
Up next is the lively Tea from China. They bounce and spin with endless energy.
Music: Nutcracker, Act II: Tea (Chinese Dance)
Tea (Chair Pose jumping to Horse/Goddess)
Like quick jumping jacks, go from one pose to the other with powerful legs. Maybe even try turning in a circle as you jump!
Candy Canes from Russia are next. Springy and athletic, their leaps match the powerful music.
Music: Nutcracker, Act II: Candy Canes (Russian)
Candy Canes (Standing Side Bends and Standing Hand to Big Toe Pose)
With feet together and palms pressed overhead, lean from side to side to stretch like a candy cane. Next, coming back to the center, pick up one knee and reach for your toes. Try to extend the leg forward as you balance, reaching the other arm straight up. Change legs.
From Denmark, dainty shepherdesses carrying flutes made of marzipan perform next.
Music: Nutcracker, Act II: Dance of the Mirlitons
Marzipan (Tilted Tree and Toe Taps)
Start in Tree pose and slowly tilt upper body away from lifted knee with arms out for balance. Then begin to tip the other way, toward the leg as you bring your toe to the floor and tap. Return to Tilted Tree. Try both sides.
Mother Ginger, with her enormous skirt billowing about, appears very flustered as her many children, the Polichinelles, pop out from beneath her skirt one by one. They run and tumble like clowns, and there are too many of them for her to keep track of. Clara and the Prince are very amused.
Music: Nutcracker, Act II, Mother Ginger
Mother Ginger's Skirt Pose (Standing Wide-legged Forward Fold into a Somersault)
Place feet wide, hands on the floor and head and neck relaxed. If your head is close to the floor and you're on a soft surface, tumble forward into a somersault, like one of the little clowns rolling out from underneath the skirt!
A group of beautifully petaled flowers waltzes across the stage now. They fold and open their petals, swaying in the breeze.
Music: Nutcracker, Act II, Waltz of the Flowers
Folding Flower Pose (Seated One-Leg Forward Fold/Janu Sirsasana)
Sit with one knee bent, like in tree. Reach arms up high, slightly rounded like the petal of a flower and then fold down toward the extended leg. If you have a large class, try sitting in a circle and moving together, many petals to make one flower! Repeat with the other leg forward.
Finally, the Sugar Plum Fairy herself dances for Clara.
Music: Nutcracker, Act II, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
Sugar Plum Fairy Pose (Dancer's Pose/Natarajasana)
Standing one leg, reach back for the top of the foot (same arm as leg), stretching the front of the thigh. Begin to push the foot further back as you balance, also stretching open the shoulder and arm. Gracefully, reach the other arm up for balance. Try on the other leg.
The magical evening has come to an end. Clara and the Prince wave goodbye to the Land of Sweets as they get into a sleigh pulled by reindeer that will return Clara to her home.
Music: Nutcracker, Act II, Final Waltz
Sleigh Pose (Boat Pose/Navasana)
Balancing on the sitting bones, lift legs off the floor, knees slightly bent. Reach arms toward toes, leaning back and keeping space under the lower back. Can you hold this pose as you wave goodbye to the Land of Sweets?
Snuggle up in Savasana, Final Resting Pose, visions of Sugar Plum Fairies dancing in your head.
Music: Nutcracker, Act 2, Pas de Deux: Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier