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Robert Abrams
Arts and Education
Performance Reviews
John Ryan Theater at White Wave
United States
New York City
New York
Brooklyn, NY

Cool New York 2007 Dance Festival - A Day for the Family

by Robert Abrams
February 3, 2007
John Ryan Theater at White Wave
25 Jay Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
A Day for the Family - Performance Program
How can we get kids interested in abstract, modern dance? White Wave's Cool New York 2007 Dance Festival may have found a workable formula for this task, although it is possible that they hit upon it by accident.

The afternoon's performances started with DIGMA which was choreographed and performed by Irina Constantine Poulos. In the first half of the work, Irina walked back and forth between two tables, transferring file folders from one to the other. Sometimes she walked slowly and sometimes she walked quickly. This work brings new meaning to the idea of a slot dance. Her black suit increasingly fell apart. She tried to hold it together with binder clips, but to no avail. Eventually she gave up and took her suit off, revealing a fuchsia dress underneath. Freed of her suit, her movements became freer as well, moving out of her slot. This work has promise. It could use a button to bring it to a close. The kids in the audience probably didn't pick up on the content of the work, but I think they could have been drawn in by the broad physical comedy of her movements. Who can't relate to clothing in hapless disarray?

The second number featured four Little Swans from White Wave's kids program, plus their leader, Faith Kimberling. The kids were running and reaching and fluttering like a swan. Sometimes they were in sync and sometimes they were just cute.

The little kids were followed by a "big kid", Karola Lüttringhaus who performed the opening scene from Marta coming home. Karola danced around and on a dollhouse. As the dance progressed, Karola took the roof off of the dollhouse and eventually danced inside of it. I thought this was "downtown" dance, but with humorous elements that kids could relate to. These elements included the dollhouse itself, as well as dancing upside down on top of it.

The next number featured a woman dressed all in black (the program doesn't match what was presented here, so I am not sure who the dancer was) who worked the space in a spotlight. She shook her shoulders and swept her arms. The kids in the audience were watching her intently, even though it was a very abstract dance.

Next up were the Little Dancing Snowflakes who, when curled up with their knees to their chests at the beginning of the dance, were each as little as a gumdrop. There were three little girls, plus their leader, Erin Jennings. Their dance started with some excellent groundwork, which segued into a jumping sequence. Several kids in the audience were following along, imitating their movements. The dance included a section in which they would run around while the music played, and then would freeze when the music stopped. Clearly they are learning to hit the breaks in the music. I think they are ready to move on from Ballet to Lindy Hop. Finally, their leader laid a hoop and a teddy bear on the floor. Each girl in turn stepped into the hoop and twirled and then ran and jumped over the bear.

The very little girls were followed by somewhat older Little Dancing Waves. This group had five girls, plus their leader, Erin Jennings. The older girls followed along in unison a little better than the younger girls, which most likely indicates that White Wave's kids program does have a progressive, positive impact. Girls in the audience were following along here as well. Sometimes the girls' movements started to look like improvised choreography with feeling. There certainly was group exuberance. If we can only keep them feeling that dance is cool as they get older, dance in New York City will do just fine. This dance ended with the leader laying down a series of colored circles and a teddy bear. The girls then performed an embellishment with a tambourine on each circle and jumped the bear. Some of the kids were very much on the beat on multiple marks.

The afternoon ended with Infinite by the Lauren Handleman Dance Collective. The lone male started the work by dancing yoga-esque moves. The five women then walked up and around the floor. The dancers released and their movements became bigger in two enfolding lines of dancers. The work ended with the dancers dancing in silence, save for the accompaniment of child-like noises emanating from the audience, which, under the circumstances, seemed appropriate.

So, here is a formula for drawing kids into modern dance: include objects familiar to kids, start with movements that are broadly comic that are also quality dance, and build on that base towards dance sequences that are more abstract. Every choreographer should create a work called "Jumping the Bear" that they can have in their repertory for when kids are in the audience (the adults need bigger bears to jump, though). And don't forget to hire an external evaluator to ask the kids what they thought of the show so that the dance field can learn and improve on our methods of getting kids interested in dance.

All in all, this was an enjoyable afternoon of dance that had something for both the kids and the adults in the audience.
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