By Jonah Shepp
AMMAN – This year, a newly established ballet school is bringing to Jordan a staple of the Christmas season frequently found in major cities around the world.
The Nutcracker, a fairy-tale ballet whose setting takes place during Christmas Eve, will be performed by the School of Amman Ballet (SAB) this December.
Based on Alexandre Dumas, adaptation of the fairy-tale “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”, by E.T.A. Hoffmann, the Nutcracker ballet is one of Russian composer Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s most famous works, and has since become an international sensation.
According to SAB founder and director Melissa Sweiss, the performance comes as part of the ballet’s efforts to offer young Jordanians a classical ballet programme comparable to prestigious institutions such as the School of American Ballet, from which the SAB takes its name.
“I wanted to create a place in Jordan for young girls to have good ballet training,” Sweiss told The Jordan Times in between auditions last week at the Orthodox Club in Abdoun.
Sweiss, an American, founded the SAB in April 2009, which has since attracted over 140 students.
“There is such a huge love for ballet in Amman, more so than anywhere else I’ve lived in the world,” she said, noting that although many local schools have ballet clubs, there is a shortage of teachers.
In addition to attracting dedicated students, Sweiss expressed confidence that her programme would help promote ballet in Jordan both as an art form and as an entertainment.
“I think there’s a huge audience for it,” she said.
Racheal LaBonte, SAB ballet mistress, agreed.
“People here are striving for any type of arts,” she said, adding that pursuing an artistic career may not be an easy choice for many Jordanians.
“It is harder here than in the US. Dance is not looked upon as a career path,” she said.
Despite widespread interest in their programme, Sweiss and LaBonte said one particular group of Jordanians have not been eager to join: Boys.
“Boys aren’t yet into ballet here,” LaBonte noted, adding that cultural sensitivities about mixed-gender dance classes are also an obstacle.
Sweiss admitted that she has yet to find one male to join the SAB, but said she is planning to hold an all-male class with themes geared towards boys, such as superheroes or sports.
For the upcoming production of the Nutcracker, scheduled for December 10-12, the school has partnered with several other local dance schools, who are providing some of their students as dancers and assisting in choreography, Sweiss said.
Sweiss said the school is aiming to outstrip previous performances in terms of scale, spectacle and quality.
The National Music Conservatory is scheduled to perform the music, while the KENZ Gift Shop, an initiative of Al Hussein Society for the Rehabilitation of the Physically Challenged, is producing the costumes for the show.
Sweiss said that SAB’s collaboration with Al Hussein Society aims to incorporate community outreach into the school’s mission.
The final performance of the ballet, slated for December 12, will be a charity performance for children from underprivileged areas, she added.
Prior to the performance, the school is scheduled to hold a number of community engagement events, including readings of the Nutcracker story at local schools, bookstores and the Children’s Museum for children and their families.