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Dance & Drama: Sydney Opera House

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By Jane Bowerconsultant to primary schools in art, drama, dance and literacy

Use the Sydney Opera House to inspire dance and drama in the last of our multi-resource series

Sydney Opera House


To widen’s children’s knowledge of the Sydney Opera House, you may wish to refer to page 16 of the August ‘07 issue of Junior Ed Topics.

Learning objectives: To gain an understanding of the process of planning, designing and constructing a new building, and the difficulties and emotions it may bring about; to learn how to phrase both written and spoken sentences clearly and to use listening and debating skills.

You will need: suitable workspace with one chair per person set formally in a circle; Poster, ‘Sydney Opera House’; the first, second and third of the ‘Sydney Opera House’ activity sheets ‘Sydney Opera House’, ‘Designing an arts venue’ and ‘A royal visit’; pencils; whiteboard and Junior Ed Topics Aug ‘07 (optional).

1. Show children the Poster, ‘Sydney Opera House’. Next, let them read and then discuss the first of the Sydney Opera House activity sheets ‘Sydney Opera House’. Ask them to answer the ‘1949’ questions on the second of the ‘Sydney Opera House’ activity sheets, ‘Designing an arts venue’, (using today’s date in the gap) in preparation for the drama to follow.

2. The drama takes the form of meetings which the teacher chairs in role as a town councillor. Children sit on the chairs and are welcomed formally to the 1949 meeting. They are invited to share their proposal ideas, which the teacher should record on a whiteboard. Decide as a class which proposals to go ahead with. End the meeting by asking the children to answer the ‘1955’ section questions on the second of the ‘Sydney Opera House’ activity sheets ‘Designing an arts venue’ and return with it to the next meeting in 1955.

3. Welcome children to the next meeting, reminding them that you last met six years ago. Since then, further discussions and planning have taken place, and you are now in the position to launch a competition. Gather children’s ideas and collate them in to a final version on the whiteboard.

4. Get the children to answer the ‘1956’ questions on the second of the ‘Sydney Opera House’ activity sheets ‘Designing an arts venue’. Encourage them to design something other than Sydney Opera House. Tell the children that they should put themselves in the position of a real architect who is entering the competition.

5. Bring the results to the 1956 meeting. Discuss the results, encouraging sound reasoning, and if you wish, select a group of strong contenders, or even a winner.

6. You can also add a further session by planning and organising the itinerary for the Queen’s visit to open the Sydney Opera House on 20 October 1973. Encourage meticulous attention to detail, using the third of the ‘Sydney Opera House’ activity sheet ‘A royal visit’. Give each child a specific role.

7. End the session by ushering children into the drama space as if it is the Sydney Opera House. Aim for a feeling of awe and a hushed atmosphere. While looking at images of the Opera House, play your chosen music and audio clip of crowds cheering (see Interactive resource, ‘Sydney Opera House’). Imagine the impact the audience had in that setting, and what this must have meant to the performers and people who built it.

Tips & techniques

This drama is founded on realism and should be played ‘straight’. Authentic touches, such as referring to wireless broadcasts rather than mobile phones, can add to your drama. You could encourage the children to try and perfect Australian accents. For the debate, aim for real passion, while maintaining good listening and fair sharing of time. Encourage children to use the information they have built up to fuel their reasoning.


Learning objective: To produce a dance inspired by aspects of the appearance and history of the Sydney Opera House.

You will need: space for movement; the fourth of the ‘Syndey Opera House’ activity sheets ‘Dance planner’; pencils; suitable music tracks (well-known opera chorus/es by Bizet, Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Beethoven’s ‘Song of Joy’ (see Interactive resource, ‘Sydney Opera House’, Paul Robeson); Poster, ‘Sydney Opera House’ and Junior Ed Topics Aug ‘07 (optional).

1. Dance plays a key role at the Sydney Opera House. As a class, revisit the history on the first of the ‘Sydney Opera House’ activity sheets ‘Sydney Opera House’, and the drama session/s you did, with a view to collecting ideas for dance. These might include miming animated discussion, individual architects drawing their designs, antagonism and reconciliation. Ask children to list these in part one on the fourth of the ‘Sydney Opera House’ activity sheet ‘Dance planner’ then try them out in the dance space.

2. Show children as many images of the Sydney Opera House as you have. Ask them to list ideas inspired by these in part two, such as arches, stretching, smooth curves, points. Try them out in the dance space.

3. Play one or more suitable music recordings to the class and decide which track feels right for the dance. Does the music itself inspire further movement ideas? List them on part 3 before trying them out.

4. Ask children to work in pairs or groups to come up with any other ideas for part 4. These might include shark’s fins, rearing up, sails in the sea, cathedral windows, stretched singing mouths. Let groups or pairs experiment with these movement ideas.

5. Discuss which ideas to keep and which to reject, and fill in part 5. Develop and practise these to your chosen piece of music before deciding on a final order and filling in part 6. Part 7 can be used to add any reminders (see ‘Tips & techniques’, below).

Tips & techniques

These will depend on your final dance and choice of music, but in general children should note particular parts of the music to listen out for, not bunching up in the middle of the room, and making sure one movement flows smoothly into the next. A good tip for each individual is to imagine a camera is on you for the whole of the dance, and that your facial expression is as much a part of the dance as your body movement.