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Teachers corral the kids through the front doors of the Strand Theatre on Columbia Road in Dorchester. This is an unusual venue for the Boston Ballet. The company has never performed for students here. And they're doing it for free.
This show has been in the making for about a year, according to Mikko Nissenen, the ballet's executive director. He says he's on a mission, not only to educate the kids in this neighborhood, but also to smash stereotypes about ballet — starting with the idea of the tutu and the point shoe.
"The point shoe can be looked at as such a rigid tool, or it can be the sexiest thing that you can imagine, it depends on how it’s used," he says. "So we’re going to throw lots of different kinds of things their way. If a little seed sticks and they enjoy, have fun, they’re exposed, that’s a big step."
The kids are excited. Some already have an appreciation of ballet, but hip hop is the hands-down dance of choice with these middle-schoolers. But the show begins with, what else, point shoes.
The kids greet the first piece, a traditional Italian tarantella, with reserved oohs and ahhs. They perk up at the contemporary ballet. The kids get amped up, and the volume rises — blowing out my mic — when a 21-year-old dancer comes out for a hip-hop ballet piece.
Then the pay-off.
A young ballet dancer named Jeff Cirio invites the audience on stage to learn some hip-hop ballet, and a bunch of the school kids show the dance company what they can do. Krumping. Jerking. It's a smash hit.
Outside the Strand Theatre, after the show, I catch up with two of the eighth graders from the Lilla G. Frederick Middle School right down the street. They got to krump on stage with the Boston Ballet.
Troy Newton said he really enjoyed the ballet. "I learned a lot from doing it, a lot of movement, arms and all that, and I'm going to try to put that to what I do, 'cause I do hip hop," he said.
So, how did this change the way Newton looks at ballet?
"Well, now when people ask me if I want to do ballet, I'm gonna say yeah!," he says. "And then when I'm in ballet and I'm gonna tell people what I do before I even knew about ballet and all that."
When Newton dances he has a partner, Nadalia Rowe. She said her friends call her Mookie.
"We krump, we jerk. Everything," Rowe explains, "But now that's going to change, we're going to do everything, including ballet."
What surprised her today?
"Everything," Rowe replies, "Like, I'd watch ballet on TV, but I'd never seen it with my actual eyes, except for on a TV screen, so it was surprising to me and I feel like I want to do it. I want to take classes."
But will the hip-hop dancer get point shoes?
"Possibly," she mused. "Possibly."
And possibly, so will I.
This program aired on March 12, 2010.
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