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Robert Abrams
Arts and Education
Performance Reviews
Gerald Lynch Theater at John Jay College
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

Rioult - Matinee performance for families - Firebird and Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions

by Robert Abrams
May 13, 2012
Gerald Lynch Theater at John Jay College
899 10th Avenue
New York, NY 10019
(212) 237-8000
This performance was advertised as being for families and kids. There were a sizable number of kids in the audience. The show started at about 3 pm.

Dance is often grouped into ballet or modern, abstract or narrative. This performance of two rather different works suggested another way to divide dance. When your child asks you, "Daddy, What are they doing?", as my daughter asked several times during each of the two dances, can you give your child a clear answer, or do you have to answer "I don't know."

In Firebird, most of the time I had to opt for "I don't know." Firebird was a largely abstract dance with movements that often had little relationship to movements in everyday life. The work had strong images with what seemed to be intended as a narrative, except that I couldn't quite tell what the narrative was intended to be. Portions of the work were also rather dark (but not all of the work - some sections were happy). This was not a work that was an obvious choice to present to kids. That said, I tend to be willing to give my daughter a chance to give a work of art a chance. She has enjoyed abstract dance before, and Firebird eventually held her rapt attention. But what the dancers were doing? I wish I knew. Rioult's Firebird was certainly striking and the dancing was good. My best guess is that the dancers were birds in black and grey, but not firebirds per se, trapped in a coal mine who were rescued by a little girl in white with branches, waving the branches, so perhaps she was an angel, and I think the birds were ultimately rescued because at the end the dancers were energetic and seemed happier, but it is difficult to explain the pleasures of speculative interpretation to a three and a half year old.

Firebird was also definitely not a "princess" dance, which tends to be what my daughter likes.

I particularly liked much of the partnering.

Firebird lasted about 40 minutes. My daughter said she liked it. When I asked her if she wanted to see another dance, she said Yes. She and other kids in the audience were dancing during intermission, which is a good sign. In particular, my daughter was practicing arabesques from Ballerina Swan, the new children's book by Allegra Kent. The bad part about the intermission was that no snacks were available for purchase.

At a little before 4 pm, Act II started. My daughter wanted to go home, but I convinced her to stay.

Part of Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions was set in everyday life, and part was set in a fantasy world. When my daughter asked "Daddy, What are they doing?", this time I had simple answers: a fight, they are helping the boy escape, flying birds.

This work had a clear narrative arc. A boy, stuck at his desk, is trapped in the regimented world of his father. The boy escapes to a fantasy world with fantastical animals. The boy learns about the joys of life. He returns to the real world and teaches his father to live more fully.

The movement included skipping and spinning. There were solos that were then picked up by the group. The work used spoken text, such as "wish for away", which helped make the narrative clear, but the narrative wasn't solely dependent on the text. There were many kids in this dance.

I particularly liked the way that the fanciful characters brought color to the boy's life. Sometimes multiple dancers made up one creature. The inventiveness fit with work by Pilobolus or Momix.

I liked the way the movement style of the father softened when he learned from his son's fantasy experiences: the two movement ideas in the work merged as the work progressed. Finally, the father and his son dance together. The father smiles. They dance happily, but now at home with the boy's friends. The father and son hug each other.

My daughter really liked the show. Outside, after the show, she showed off moves she had seen in the show. Rioult, like pretty much all of the dance companies I have taken my daughter to see, needs a kid-friendly program with photos and coloring pages and such. Snacks would be a good idea too, but this may not be possible at some venues. In regards to the show itself, if you have kids and are willing to take your child to a show that stretches the boundaries of what a show for kids can be, I highly recommend Rioult's family matinee.
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