A South Auckland school will close for a day next week so all 670 pupils and staff – from the principal to the caretakers - and a handful of parent helpers can see the Royal New Zealand Ballet perform The Nutcracker.

Manurewa Central Principal Laurie Thew says attending a ballet, play or concert and making art are as important to learning as maths or physical education classes, especially in an area where pupils might not get regular chances to see professional visual and performing arts.

Thew says the decile three school's philosophy of giving its pupils experiences beyond the classroom justifies what would have been the $18,000 cost for the 25.6km trip to the Civic and tickets to a school's matinee performance.

A collection of school sponsors, who prefer to remain anonymous but regularly donate to its "beyond the classroom" activities, agreed and were willing to pay for the 12 buses required and the theatre seats.

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But when the RNZB heard about the block booking – the biggest in its history – it leapt into action and offered to pay for the school's transport to the theatre, for what has to be one of the most magical outings undertaken by a South Auckland primary school.

Dancers Fabio Lo Giudice and Loughlan Prior duelling in a scene from The Nutcracker. Photo/Stephen A'Court
Dancers Fabio Lo Giudice and Loughlan Prior duelling in a scene from The Nutcracker. Photo/Stephen A'Court

The RNZB's education and community manager Pascale Parenteau was so surprised at the size of the booking, she checked with Auckland Live that it was correct then telephoned the school for further confirmation.

"I've been working in the sector for 18 years and I'd never seen anything like this before," says Parenteau. "I telephone the school and they explained to me their thinking behind it so I thought 'let's see what we can do to help them out'. It complemented the Four Winds Foundation's own strategy to make ballet accessible in lower decile schools."

The foundation's support also included the added bonus of four days' worth of workshops with RNZB dance educator Bea Lee-Smith who has spent time with all 25 classes at Manurewa Central School.

Indeed, The Nutcracker has extended into many areas of the curriculum with art-making themed around the ballet, music lessons about composer Tchaikovsky and English classes looking at the story and how fairytales and fables are adapted around the world.

They may follow up with lessons about the history of The Civic itself.

Thew first saw The Nutcracker many years ago when, on a Commonwealth Teacher Exchange Programme, he was a young teacher in Scotland's Aberdeen and went on a class trip.

He says it opened his eyes to the ways in which the arts, and creative experiences, fuel learning.

"Teaching is much more than reading, writing and maths," he says. "There's a whole world out there that our kids can really explore and be part of. These types of activities give them the opportunity to experience new things and realise there's a world beyond their own neighbourhood."

It's a sentiment Parenteau supports.

"I acknowledge that's my job but I see the change it can make in action," she says. "Not everyone is going to grow up and become a ballet dancer – but they might realise there's a role for them behind the scenes and become a great crew member. These opportunities are very real."

She says the demand for RNZB dance educators is growing and, as The Nutcracker has toured the country, some 13,000 school pupils have participated in education programmes. Young dancers have also participated on stage, with around 300 aspiring dancers having joined the RNZB during the national tour.

Meanwhile, the excitement among Manurewa Central pupils themselves is palpable. Year 5 and 6 students told the Weekend Herald they're looking forward to the performance itself especially seeing how props and costumes help make the story come alive and how a story is adapted for the ballet.

Most anticipated scene? Easily the battle between soldiers led by the Nutcracker and the Mouse King.