Innocence, and magic, and beauty. Those are concepts too often trampled under and forgotten in childhood as it is lived these days, when too many children are street-wise, brash, overexposed to adult concepts before their time and corrupted by the life that surrounds them.
But innocence and beauty is the stock in trade of the Children's Dance Theatre, which is teaching a few hundred children every year that there is an inner life and magic places they can retreat to in imagination, where they can walk in beauty every day as they learn about freedom, and creativity, and love.Not only are the high-minded values of the spirit upheld, but here kids learn to be responsible, professional, and on time. And their families turn out in great supportive droves to see the results, carrying a few flowers to deliver to lucky, cherished children. The way CDT operates gives you some hope for the future.
CDT's 40th anniversary concert reviewed some of the old dances from founder Virginia Tanner's time and offered a few new ones. The beat goes on, as the song says, and Tanner's spirit lives in these dances.
"The Buttermilk Tree" comes from a poem by Nura, and the tree represents the tender, nourishing care that people give each other from infancy to maturity. The dance was first done by Tanner, but each new version arises from the creativity of the children, as each cast expresses it a little differently.
Groups representing innocence, friendship, adolescence and maturity surged across the stage, and the live baby with mother in the opening lullaby focused attention on the reality of these concepts, even though the baby did cry on Friday night. The children finally piled up and built a tree of friendship and good will as the lights went down.
"Ryoan-ji" by Jacque Lynn Bell caught the essence of the Oriental spirit in choreography that centered with simple economy of means around three platforms at varying levels. Long lines of dancers slowly criss-crossing the stage, twining among the platforms, gave the feeling of humanity in motion, as the miracle of life's development was acted out by soloists and small groups.
A family sheltered a baby; fathers and children, mothers and children interacted, and friendships developed. This dance, which combined a warm and loving feeling with its dignity, involved both children and teachers moving in unity, and a touching tableau of a family from youth to old age at the end.
"The Nightingale" has long been a popular touring number for CDT, and can be scaled down for a few dancers. But the concert version was a sort of extravaganza with pretty costumes, using many dancers in court scenes, on the seashore and woodlands that were the nightingale's haunts. Music by James Prigmore, performed by live musicians, effectively supported this charming fairy tale, whose moral is that people must not be so dazzled by gaudy imitations that they fail to value the real thing.
"The King's New Clothes," again a Tanner favorite, was a sprightly little piece based on the Andersen fairy tale, which ran quickly through the action suggested by an old Danny Kaye song. Juan Valenzuela's "I Am Magic" provided a little winged interlude for the perfect combination of children and balloons.
The final "Together," danced by CDT and the Repertory Dance Theatre, suggested the artistic bonds that have united these two companies ever since Tanner got the grant that was used to start RDT back in 1966.