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We were lucky enough at school a few weeks ago, to be offered the chance to host a workshop run by Matthew Bourne’s ballet company, based on their world famous, award winning ballet – Swan Lake.

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Matthew Bourne is renowned for his fresh, contemporary take on traditional ballets, and his use of male dancers in what are usually considered female roles, i.e. the swans in Swan Lake.  The chance to dance with some of his dancers really was a once in a life time opportunity that we didn’t feel we could turn down.

You can find out more about Matthew Bourne and his body of work through his website, here.

Swan Lake is probably considered to be his seminal work, and in the twenty years since it was conceived it has garnered awards and recognition on a world stage – and has, arguably, changed the face of modern ballet forever.

Working in collaboration with a partner school we were able to give the opportunity to dance to thirty children who were delighted to spend two hours with two world class dancers who took them through an entire creative process from warm up to imaginative and dramatic dance exercises, to finally working on segments of the actual Swan Lake ballet itself.

The workshop was aimed at children aged 9-12 but we had a wider range of ages from 6 to 14, as some of the younger children, who are dance mad, begged to be allowed to join the workshop, and it seemed cruel to turn them down.

Our workshop was run by Sophia and Steve, who did an absolutely amazing job of keeping all the children on their toes, and working hard for two hours after a full day at school.  They were enthusiastic, encouraging and inventive in the way they worked with the children.

It was inspiring to watch them work with the children, and to see how the nuts and bolts of building a ballet relies so much on being able to create a perfectly comprehensible narrative with the body.  It really gave me, as an onlooker, a new understanding of both ballet, and of how this kind of workshop could be used to really support literacy work in a fresh and exciting way.

Dance is also part of the new national curriculum under PE, and we feel that something like this workshop could be a valuable addition to your school’s PE timetable as well as providing children with a taster of what ballet is like.  The teacher who was with me at the workshop was already thinking about how she could incorporate some of the warm up exercises into her regular PE classes, as the children responded so enthusiastically to them on the day.

We also felt that a ballet workshop like this, with such a unique focus on building character and exploring the dramatic story that dance offers could support a literacy programme that would explore how to build narratives in different ways.  We are, for example, doing a module in Year 5 and 6 this term on Timeless Tales – about traditional stories which have stood the test of time. A workshop on Swan Lake would be perfect for a topic like this.

We canvassed the children’s opinion on their experience of the workshop after it had happened and they were universally enthusiastic and delighted to have taken part.  Their parents were also asked if they thought the workshop had been worth the effort, and the cost, and they were all in agreement that it was.

We were able to book our workshop through our local theatre, The Curve, in Leicester, who were offered educational workshops to sit alongside their hosting of Swan Lake at Curve. If the show is touring in a city near you, you may be able to access the same resources, or otherwise we advise you to email the company via their website.

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