Painting and dancing pictures of their worlds

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By KIERAN FINNANE

 

It was called Alice Can Dance but dancing doesn’t happen without ideas and so it was also Alice Can Think, Alice Can Speak, Alice Can Tell a Story.

 

And Alice, in this case, was a big group of children and a team of artists and choreographers. The children all attend government schools in town and this time, for the first time in the event’s five year history, Ntaria School.

 

They worked together over seven weeks, school by school, then two weeks ago they put on a show on the Araluen stage, two shows in fact, at 5 and 7pm. I went to the earlier one, packed with a wildly enthusiastic audience. No doubt it included many of the children’s families and friends but they weren’t just cheering and clapping their own, they were mad for them all and for what they were doing.

 

p2497 Alice Can Dance gold 430The show was about the worlds of these children, real and imagined, their ways of seeing them – “painted pictures of worlds with their words”, as they said, and danced pictures with their bodies.

 

‘The tales we tell’ was its subtitle and there was a large video screen stage left where sometimes we watched their written stories unfold, different hands taking up different coloured pens, completing the sentences started by someone else. There was a strong sense of stories being for the telling, for the power of transmission including through the generations, and a sense of the freedom that can come through story-telling, of the way stories expand horizons.

 

On the screen we also sometimes saw pairs of children responding to questions like what’s your favourite word or the weirdest word you know. This expanded to them reflecting on what makes a good story: it has to have a bit of romance, said one; it has to have a bad person and if it didn’t it wouldn’t keep you hooked; it has to take you to another world; it has to have an ending or it wouldn’t be a story.

 

Many may have been thinking about stories you read in books or that have been read to them, but one girl spoke of the stories her Nanna told her about her family’s experience of the Stolen Generations.

 

p2497 Alice Can Dance wheelchair 430In another sequence they spoke about imagination. One boy looked back on his younger self who loved to imagine sticks as swords but he’d left all that behind now. One girl laughed at what she used to think about Heaven – a place where God had a barbecue and served himself sausages. It might have been the same little girl who recognised that with imagination you are not answerable to anyone – you don’t need to be judged, you don’t need to tell anybody, you can just be yourself. The wisdom of children.

 

These video sequences came as interludes between dance performances, school group by school group. Occasionally there was a flash of an impressive skill – a solo, a handstand, a cartwheel, some breakdancing – but it was mostly about of the joy of moving freely and expressively, of having channelled this into form and doing it as a collective experience. Movements were passed from one to another like a gift, or movements were worked up from pairs to a larger group.  Anyone can dance: this wasn’t just a message, this was happening there on the stage.

 

Producer and coordinator of this wonderful learning experience and performance was Lizzie Verstappen, who is principal at Sadden Primary School, in collaboration with the local professional dance company, 2NDTOE.

 

Concept and realisation was by Frankie Snowdon, Madeleine Krenek, Adam Wheeler, Kyle Shilling, Pippa Samaya and Jonny Rowden.

 

Choreography was by Snowdon, Krenek, Wheeler, and Shilling in collaboration with the students and we often saw them on stage, never dominating or chivvying, but rather supporting, enabling, and joyfully joining in.

 

Video was by Samaya, Rowden and Wheeler, and Rowden did the music and sound.

 

Hats off to them all and their supporters, including the Department of Education. I expect Alice Can Dance was the highpoint of schooldays throughout those seven glorious weeks for the two hundred plus children involved.

 

Photos courtesy Alice Can Dance: on stage photos above by Maya Newell; class photo below by Pippa Samaya.

 

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