Monday, October 13, 2008

Tiny dancers

'Small Steps' a giant leap for youngsters — and director

TCPalm: Florida's Treasure Coast and Palm Beaches

By SHARON MCDANIEL, Correspondent

Published Sunday, October 5, 2008

They're sixth-graders, and they're dancing with the stars. Not the Hollywood types, but with New York's famed Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre.

Nineteen South Florida children will perform on the Kravis Center's main stage with one of today's top contemporary dance troupes. It's a prize not even many top dance professionals can claim.

The youngsters, from Jupiter and beyond, will have their big moment at 5 p.m. Oct. 12. They're an imaginative part of Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions, a 40-minute work by award-winning French-born choreographer Pascal Rioult. Along with Rioult's child-themed version of Firebird, the students are integral to the matinee program's concept, "A Little Child Shall Lead Them."

Small Steps was a grand experiment, said Rioult (say ree-YOU), a first for him to combine children with his 17-year-old company. It proved an all-around winner at its January premiere in Pennsylvania: a blast for the youngsters, an ego boost for the community, and a repertoire bonus for a dancer-choreographer who knows that education through art can change lives.

"So we had 12 little kids — they'd never been on stage before; two-thirds never took dance," Rioult said. "I worried about it: 10 dancers on stage and (the) kids — a lot of people and a lot of movement. But the kids held their place and it was amazing and they were beaming!"

Fifty students from sixth through eighth grades auditioned at Bak Middle School of the Arts. The 19 selected will rehearse with Rioult dancers beginning Tuesday. Fittings for the colorful, fanciful costumes start Thursday.

The youngsters animate the shapes and colors of a dream world invented by the main character, a boy of about 14 — another reason for the program title, "A Little Child Shall Lead Them." He wants to escape to someplace he can dance, free of his father's fierce disapproval. His "shape world" of rainbow colors, of squiggles and wriggles and bounces, is from the poem Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions by Deborah Sacarakis, the story line for the ballet.

"I gave (the youngsters) fairly simple movements. Like in the underwater world, they move like fishes. Or like a centipede. And insects whirl," Rioult said.

A watered-down kiddie show it's not. A commission by Lehigh University, the Small Steps project sprang from the expressive, theatrical narrative by Lehigh staffer Sacarakis, then an original score by Lehigh choral director Steven Sametz.

"It also works for me artistically," Rioult said. "The kids are totally integrated into the piece; they don't look out of place there. It's not too common to see a family program with serious art, (like) new music by a really good composer."

And a sensitive treatment of a common family problem. When love overcomes the fear and anger on both sides, father and son reunite forever.

"It really surprised me: Fathers said that they cried," Rioult said of the January premiere. "They don't go to dance, but they really got it."


FIREBIRD (show in photo above)

Pascal Rioult's Firebird is set to the famous music by Igor Stravinsky. But the choreographer's 2003 contemporary dance version is much more child-centered.

"It's a story of innocence," Rioult said of the 40-minute ballet. "It's the fight between evil and good, and potential of child to believe in magic and bring us to believe the world can be a better place."

The dance troupe portrays a depressed, disturbed group of people who are "slaves to wrongdoing," said Rioult.

But a little girl, dressed in white, enters that darkness and intervenes. She is the Firebird of myth, the symbolic phoenix of hope and rebirth.


In Pascal Rioult's Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions, a young boy loves to dance. But his father disapproves and forbids it. The boy dreams up a fantasy land where he can dance, full of colors and shapes that dance with him.

When the father realizes he has driven his son away, he begins searching. But he is threatened by the strange world he finds the boy in and hesitates. Finally, forced to confront his fears, the father enters the boy's world.

On that common ground, father and son set aside their fears and reconcile.

Sharon McDaniel

What: Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre and local children in a family program of contemporary dances: Rioult's Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions and whimsical, child-themed Firebird.

Where: Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach

When: Sun., Oct. 12 at 5 p.m.

Contact: (561) 832-7469 or (800) 572-8471


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