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Robert Abrams
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Lincoln Center
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From the Horse's Mouth: Chapter 17 (The Dance Game) - Reel to Real for Kids

by Robert Abrams
March 22, 2003
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023

From the Horse's Mouth: Chapter 17 (The Dance Game) - Reel to Real for Kids

presented by Lincoln Center with the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Conceived and directed by Tina Croll and Jamie Cunningham

Costume concept by Barbara Ellmann

Performed by Mary Anthony, Caren Calder Plummer, Pat Catterson, Laura Colby, Harold Cromer, Gemze de Lappe, Andrea Del Conte, Michael DiFonzo, Kwikstep and Rokafella, Blossom Leilani, Rajika Puri, Marcia Rand, Don Redlich, Gus Solomons jr, Martine van Hamel, Dr. Glory Van Scott, Cathryn Williams

Review by Robert Abrams
March 22, 2003

Tina Croll, Jamie Cunningham and friends presented a special version of their ongoing project, "From the Horse's Mouth", that was designed for children and their parents. One might describe this presentation as a stream of layered stimulation. Tina and Jamie explained how the process would work, with a few kids helping them demonstrate (a rather Brechtian touch), and then went into the main show. The dancers presented a parade of costumed movement. These passages were followed by a series of dancers who told stories about their lives and how their dancing motivated their lives. Behind the seated speaker was a dancer presenting a movement phrase on one spot, with another dancer playing off of this phrase. Behind these dancers was a film, usually of the seated speaker dancing, or a dance related to the speaker's story. These layered presentations were bracketed by extended excerpts from films such as Billy Elliot. For the grand finale, many of the kids got to dress up in costumes and dance across the stage with the professionals.

Dancers perform The Horse's Mouth
Photo courtesy of Tom Caravaglia

Today's show was an experiment (by dancers who have a proven record of experimenting across otherwise unlikely borders) to take a collaborative presentation of dance and transform it into children's theatre. The result fits squarely in a tradition of children's theatre that does not talk down to kids. The dancers spoke from the heart, and sometimes they tackled difficult topics, such as death. It is unclear to me how much of the message the children were able to absorb, given that some of the children were quite young and the stories were quite conceptually advanced, but I would hypothesize that it doesn't matter. The show was kind of a three ring circus. If the stories were over some of the kids' heads, there was much else for them to focus on. The best children's theatre has something for the adults as well as the children. And even so, many of the story tellers made an effort to scaffold their language: if they used a word that might be too advanced for the kids, they would explain themselves also with simpler language, such as using "cosmetics" and "make-up".

A few of the major points from the stories have stuck with me. Dance has allowed the speaker to follow her bliss. You should find and follow your bliss, whatever that may be (even if it isn't dance). A ballerina said that the work she has put into dance has allowed her to express the essence of herself. Finally, one of the dancers told a story in which she concluded that "dance set me free to be me."

While each dancer did not have much time to express themselves, whether in spoken story or in movement, they have all clearly found the essence of themselves and even in a couple of minutes the resulting bliss clearly showed through.

The show in its current form was both entertaining and informative. I believe the show deserves another presentation in its current form. That being said, there were elements of the show that got short shrift due to lack of time. For instance, at the start of the show, the children could call out animals and the dancer would create a variation of the base movement phrase using movement characteristics of that animal. While dancers were basing their movements on cards they drew, and some of these may have been animals students suggested, it was not so clear. Not that it really mattered. But one could envision a different kind of workshop emphasizing different elements of the current show, such as more explicit use of variations and child participation. In other words, Tina, Jamie and friends have an embarrassment of creative riches, and no doubt will build on today's experience in future presentations.

The next time they present this show, make sure to get a ticket. And be generous and find an adult to take along.

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