From The Mouths of Babes…
FRANCINE L. TREVENS
Naturally, when it comes to dance at holiday time, people think of The Nutcracker, and rightly so, since nothing says Christmas so thoroughly. Unless you reside in New York City, where Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas celebration is also a strong contender.
Many dance companies worldwide present The Nutcracker or the shorter version Nutcracker Suite using choreography from various choreographers, including Balanchine and Baryshnikov. Dance schools often do special holiday performances of Cinderella or other family appropriate dance pieces.
Again, if you live in or near Manhattan, you may opt for a full day of family holiday fare, including department store windows, the Rockefeller Center tree, and a Broadway show. Assuming the threatened stage hands strike either is aborted or short run, here are some suggestions for family entertainment for those who love dance.
Personally, if I could choose only one Broadway musical, I would opt for The Lion King as the first Broadway production a child sees. It is so magical, creative, eye filling and larger than life, it is sure to impress and excite. Having the animals march down the aisles or lean off the stage, thus enveloping the audience in the jungle, is so exhilarating for youngsters. The dance and fight and jesting is titillating for all ages. I did some audience watching at the show, and whatever a person’s age, the mere spectacle staggered the viewer…
To give those with children an extra edge, however, I asked a number of youngsters to give their recommendations for seasonal entertainment in the Big Apple area for those who love dance.
When I attended the Martha Graham Dance Company’s performances at the Joyce Theater, a couple of young teens in the audience were raving about “Appalachian Spring.” I asked them if they thought other kids would like it and was told, “How could they not?” So if the troupe is performing anywhere near you and you have older children, go!
A Maryland twelve year old who has seen children’s theater there and in New York’s Tada! Theater, and who has been to the Kennedy Center, Ice Capades, and other seasonal events, made his first foray to Broadway this year, and chose to see The Lion King, particularly familiar to him since he’d seen the film.
Asked during the first act if he thought the stage version was better than the film, young Michael DiGenova said the movie was better. At the end of the first act, he said he thought they were both equally good. In the middle of the second act he allowed as how the stage version might be better than the film. But when he got back with his three younger siblings, his enthusiasm for the Broadway show indicated he found it far superior to the movie.
He marveled at the dancers’ ability to create their animal beings and to move so well in their costumes. “I thought they must have been heavy, but they didn’t move like they were heavy.”
While in the city, he had also seen the Pilobolus dance troupe, and was blown away by them. Prior to going to the performance, he had admitted he wasn’t much on dance, but during it he said it was great. (Unfortunately, that troupe is away during the holiday season.)
Asked which he would recommend to other kids he said “The Lion King. It was funny and scary. Even some of the dancing was scary. I like scary. I think all kids would like it.”
Michael also recently saw, “back home,” High School Musical at Patriot Center and Jungle Book at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland. He liked both, but “The Lion King was much better. There were more actors, more costumes, more dancing and it was more exciting.”
Ceanna Bryant, a nine-year-old native New Yorker, has seen more than the average number of plays and dance shows. Daughter of parents who work in the theatre, she has attended many rehearsals and has a more than childlike savvy about what goes into a production.
Ceanna, who has seen Legally Blond, Beauty And The Beast, Mary Poppins, Wicked, The Nutcracker and a host of children’s theatre productions, recommends Mary Poppins because “It has something everyone in the family can like and the dancing was good. I never got to see The Lion King, so I can’t say about that…”
Ceanna studies several kinds of dance, although she prefers hip hop and modern dance to classical, She has appeared in several dance recitals at her school, Midtown West.
Anastasia Rappaport, a four and a half year old from Fords, New Jersey got to see the Broadway version of Mary Poppins during which, according to her mom Merrill, the child sat open mouthed. and was totally entranced –“She watched, she sang, she pointed when something especially interesting happened — she smiled and she moved when they danced. She did not want to leave her seat during intermission afraid she would miss something.” Anastasia was familiar with Mary Poppins because she has the DVD at home and likes to watch it.
After the performance, they waited for real life ”Mary Poppins” outside the stage door and not only got her autograph, but got the star to pose for a picture holding her newest fan. Anastasia’s family wanted to take her to The Nutcracker at Papermill Playhouse last year, but kids have to be at least six to be admitted. She watched it on TV She has seen lots of children performing for children theatre, where a friend’s child performs…
“We only take her to musicals and she stays focused the whole time. She has seen musicals in Plays in the Park in Edison, N.J.
The three Green family children, Tori, 12, Kyra, 10 and Riley, 8 have seen ten Broadway musicals and The Nutcracker. They all agreed The Nutcracker had a “great Christmas feeling.” But Tori wouldn’t recommend it to all kids. “It depends. The short version would be good for 3-8 year olds and the regular length for 9 and older. I've seen both versions but I like the longer one better because the dances are much better.” Kyra felt six and older would like it because they’d be old enough to enjoy ballet. Riley, however said, “I think I saw it when I was really little like 3 and I loved the bears and big toys that dance, so, like, 3 years old and bigger.”
Kyra wishes she could see “ballets like Sleeping Beauty.” Riley would like to go to “hip hop shows.”
Tori said, “We saw Mary Poppins, Chicago, Grease, Annie Get Your Gun, Wizard of Oz, The Boy Friend, Charlie Brown and Bye Bye Birdie off Broadway. I liked The Nutcracker best.” Kyra voted for Bye Bye Birdie and Riley for Charlie Brown. They make up their own dances to the songs for mommy and daddy and perform them at dinner .Tori adds,” I think it's amazing how they dance and sing at the same time. You have to be in great shape”
They all agreed the Christmas show at Radio City is “fun, and great for the holidays, but too short and super expensive.”
A professional kid dancer, Toni Madison has been performing since she was seven. She did a tour of The Sound of Music when she was 10. “We toured all over the country for nine months”.
Toni has seen The Nutcracker multiple times and thinks it’s great for kids from “five to 100.” Of the Broadway musicals, and she says she’s seen them all, she would vote between Mary Poppins and Wicked.
“The dancing was very different on every show. Like in The Lion King it was very African, and in Wicked, more contemporary.
She added. “ For a ballet, Sleeping Beauty. It’s a fun way to experience ballet. Oh, and Hairspray is another great dance show, but more for ages starting at eight.”
Back in New York this year is The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, which brings to life the Dr. Seuss book to perfection. Last year’s version was a bit light on dance, however, which may be why none of this year’s youngsters mentioned it.
Or maybe they just can’t remember that long ago?
Be sure to check local theatre companies, schools and colleges to see what they are offering over the holiday season for a close-to-home dance delight.
Whatever your family choice, do enjoy some dance this holiday season – be it on Broadway at a school recital, or a ballet company. It inspires children to move and is a great way for a family to celebrate together.