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An Innovative Outreach Program
by Susie Freehafer

What a day to be a kid! The auditorium was filled with the 8-and-under crowd at the Diablo Ballet's 7th Annual Dance Development Theatre Encounter. Lauren Jonas, Artistic Director of Diablo Ballet, emceed the event, explaining first the language of ballet, and how it originated in the courts of France (and why most of the terminology of ballet is in French). Karyn Lee Connell did some demonstration steps while Jonas explained point shoes. Kyongho Kim played the male example, doing serial sautés while Jonas explained to the children that male dancers have to be very strong, and they wear soft shoes called technique shoes.

The next segment was very innovative, and highly educational. Associate Artistic Director Nilolai Kabaniaev played piano music and asked the audience what setting it evoked. Assistants circulated throughout the audience with microphones. Dracula's castle (in Rome, of course) was selected from among the enthusiastic suggestions, then the cast was selected: Dracula's wife for Connell, and for Kim, well, let's say this would be a retelling of the archetypal tale of girl meets . . . pig. After gathering ideas from the audience about the opening scene, building action, and resolution (Jonas parried the requests for porcine bloodletting with aplomb), we were in the end treated to the world premiere ballet, Revenge of the Pig. This creative endeavor engendered a valuable lesson for those new-to-ballet, demonstrating that ballet is not something static, to watch like TV, but something deeply participatory and dynamic, a process in which they, too, can play a role. It dramatically showed that there are parts to play for many different individuals, not just dancers, but choreographers and musicians, art directors, and educated audiences, too. A very important and elegantly presented message: Ballet does not have to be stuffy; it can be fun.

The next segments were demonstration dances. First Viktor Kabaniaev (Nikolai's twin brother!) and Tina Kay Bohnstedt demonstrated a perfectly executed pas de deux, doing the ballet professional's job of making it look easy. Next, Kabaniaev messed up his hair and pretended to be overtired and off his marks, and they danced the pas de deux as physical comedy, demonstrating how important it is for the dancers to be in synch.

Two more exhibitions showed a bit of the range of what is possible in ballet: a pas de deux from "Dancing Miles" (Kelly Teo choreographed), a fluid modern dance style work, then a more classical pas de deux to the music of George Gershwin's Embraceable You.

The Theatre Encounter was free to the public, thanks to Sunvalley Mall, extending its sponsorship for the sixth year in a row. Many in the audience were from under-served public schools, having their first ballet experience. My four-year-old son was delighted, the best endorsement I can imagine.

 

Please join a discussion on this topic in our forum. Read also a conversation between Diablo Ballet Artistic Director Lauren Jonas and criticaldance.com Director Azlan Ezaddin.

Edited by Azlan Ezaddin.

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