Stepping into Beauty

A dance workshop at Glasgow's Tramway is giving young dancers their first taste of ballet. Jackie Cosh reports

Five petite and graceful dancers glide along the floor, then stop and immediately transform themselves into trees in the magical forest. They alternate between tall, soft, summer trees and low, sharp winter trees, positioning and shaping their bodies accordingly.

Next they dip their hands and feet into the many imaginary pots of paint and use their bodies to make clear prints and patterns. There are twists and turns, and snake-like movements with no area left untouched. The enchanted forest is now complete and in our eyes we can see the forest that this ballet studio has been turned into.

The enchanted forest is in Glasgow's Tramway, home to Scottish Ballet, and the five girls are aged between seven and nine and are here for the Forty Winks workshop. Dance artist Lorraine Jamieson is introducing them to some basic ballet moves and giving them an insight into the story of Sleeping Beauty before they see the show, this year's Scottish Ballet Christmas production.

The Forty Winks initiative was set up for young children experiencing ballet for the first time. With Marion Christie playing the music from Sleeping Beauty, they get the opportunity to try out some of the moves, learn some of the terminology, and find out about the show and what to expect.

Elsewhere, a treasure trail in the National Museum of Scotland lets them search for objects relating to the performance; resources on the Scottish Ballet website allow them to build up a better understanding of ballet; and finally there is the show itself where the children get to see a special prologue of the full ballet.

"We are ballet dancers today," the girls are told. "Imagine a balloon on the top of your head. It's pulling you up to the ceiling while your hands are being pulled down. Then we will get into dancers' pose like the Lilac Fairy from Sleeping Beauty."

Ms Jamieson worked with the education team at Scottish Ballet in what she describes as a collaborative approach to designing a workshop. "We shared ideas about what we wanted," she says. "The idea is that there are always little tasks we can do and relate them to the show. We give them an introduction to Sleeping Beauty and show them different positions. I use words like `elegance' and, when there are boys there, `prince' to make them understand ballerinas.

"The workshop is about getting them to think creatively and come up with choreography. It is all play which comes naturally to them."

After the girls have learnt about moves such as arabesques and jetes, Ms Jamieson sits down with them and they look through pictures from the show.

"What elements of the show make the story?" she asks them. "In Sleeping Beauty the story is very much about good versus evil. In our game we played, what trees and shapes represented good? What ones represented bad?"

The girls are now engrossed, enthusiastic and totally in tune with the themes of the show. When it comes to doing some choreography themselves, they are keen to get started and full of ideas.

They divide into two groups and come up with a set of moves based on what they have learnt. Joining together, they combine all the moves to perform their own mini-show.

"We wanted to introduce ballet to young people who hadn't previously gone," says education manager Lorna Murray. "We wanted them to come and see Sleeping Beauty so that they could get a taste, and so we thought that a practical workshop could give them some insight into ballet.

"We firmly believe that doing ballet as well as watching it is the best way to get the most out of ballet."

While there are no boys here today, other workshops have had some male presence. "We would really love to encourage more boys to get involved in ballet," says Ms Murray.

"Often when we visit schools, boys aren't keen at first, but within five minutes they are saying `Yeeesss'. They see that ballet helps with strength and co-ordination, skills needed for football. It also help that some of the choreography has grotesque elements to it."

The Connect microsite on the company's website is designed to allow teachers, children and young people to find out more about ballet. They can read the story of Sleeping Beauty the ballet, discover more about the characters, design their own fairy or play games.

"We worked really closely with Education Scotland to develop material that enhances Curriculum for Excellence and gives creativeness and citizenship. It is something we are acutely aware of," says Ms Murray. "With the increase in dance in primary and secondary schools, teachers feel exposed as they have not had the experience."

Glow groups and treasure trails

- Scottish Ballet has launched a Scottish Ballet Glow group where teachers and pupils can access the photo gallery, teachers' testimonials and dancer interviews. It also has links to webcasts, the Connect website and a creativity portal. More interactive events within the Glow group will soon be scheduled.

- The Forty Winks special prologue dress rehearsal will take place at Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Saturday, 17 December, 1:45pm.

- The National Museum of Scotland will host a special Sleeping Beauty treasure trail with objects linked to the tale's production, from Saturday, 17 December.

- Forty Winks dance workshops will also be hosted at the Learning Centre of the National Museum of Scotland on 28, 29 December and 4, 5 January.

- The full performance of Sleeping Beauty can be seen at: The Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 17-31 December;

The Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 11-14 January;

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, 18-21 January; and Eden Court Inverness, 25-28 January.

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