Performance Planner: Imagination Station
After her studio’s Broadway inspired production last year, Dana Merritt, the owner and director of Arts Caravan Performing Arts Studio in Katonah, New York, had a two-fold goal for her 2008 recital: to develop something completely different from the last performance and to showcase the progress of her recreational studio in the five years since it opened. “I wanted all the teachers to come up with something that would demonstrate just what we can do with a little imagination,” says Merritt.
Kathy Kinner, owner of Kinner & Co. Dance Studio, Inc. in Springfield, Illinois, had a similar idea. She was instantly hooked on an imagination theme as soon as she heard the first line of what became her school’s 2006 opening number, “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe. “I thought it was beautiful and broad enough to encompass almost any idea,” says Kinner.
Here, we give you a glimpse of both shows- and offer a unique spin on how you can use these ideas to create your own masterpiece.
Song: “I Can Only Imagine,” by MercyMe
Genre/Level: ballet/lyrical (multiple levels)
Severl ballet classes took part in the opening number of Kinner & Co.’s show. Featuring 7-year-olds through senior girls in shiny gold dresses, it started with one dancer lying center stage. Soft music and lighting steadily built as others gradually lifted her high in the air. Students crossed the stage with sautés and arabesque combinations before falling to their knees in accordance with the reverent quality of the music.
Another great way to start your show is to set a lyrical routine to “Imagine,” the classic ode to peace by the late John Lennon. Introduce the overarching theme of the show with a nod to the singer’s memorial in Central Park. Paint a circle with the word “Imagine” in the center in bold letters, decorating the edges and center with artificial flowers in the shape of a peace sign. Movement should be light-hearted and soft. Flower children wearing tie-dyed, flowy dresses can scatter colorful blooms around the stage as they pirouette and chainé, form human chains and loop under and around each other.
Song: “Pure Imagination,” from the Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory Original Soundtrack
Genre/Level: beginner and advanced ballet
Senior pointe students at Arts Caravan opened each recital with a quick intro number. As the words, “Let me lead you to a world of pure imagination,” trailed off, the older girls, in striking white tutus, welcomed some of the youngest dancers on stage with a reverence pose, symbolically ushering in the next generation of dancers.
For a variation on this idea, try “Imagination” by Jessica Simpson and let all of your dancers show off energetic moves such as axel turns, side leaps and lots of hip shaking to get the audience revved for what’s to come.
Song: “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star,”
Genre/Level: beginner jazz/ballet
Kinner’s 2- and 3-year-olds donned pink and mint green costumes as they perform beginner ballet and jazz steps to a funky, jazzy version of this classic.
“Wishing on a Star” by Rose Royce is another great celestial pick. Create whimsical wands with glitter, ribbons and flowers, and use sweeping arm movements to match the music. Hang cutout stars on and around the stage to add to the effect.
Song: “Bet On It,” Zac Efron, from High School Musical 2
Genre/Level: intermediate jazz/hip hop
Merritt’s younger dancers loved doing basic jazz steps to this teen hit. They wore black unitards with brightly colored ruffles at the ankles and neck. To accommodate the one boy in the number, the studio owner ordered an extra girls’ costume and used it’s ruffles to spice up the neck and cuffs of a T-shirt.
You may also want to consider having your pre-teens pretend to be rock stars, singing along to the infectious teeny bopper hit, “Rockstar,” by Prima J. Cast some students as paparazzi and have them run onto the stage from the audience, wearing reporter-style fedoras, shouting and snapping photos. Dress your stars in vibrant colors and cool accessories (bracelets, rocker-T’s, dangly earrings, etc.). The music calls for jazzy jumps, hip rolls and turns, or let hip-hoppers and acrobats dazzle with flipping, breaking and battling.
Song: “Luck Be a Lady,” by Frank Sinatra
Genre/Level: intermediate and advanced tap
One saucy tap number at Kinner & Co.’s show included an a capella section that allowed the more advanced tappers to strut their time steps, drawbacks and other moves. These dancers channeled flappers, in shiny, bright dresses with matching pillbox-style hats.
Or, have your dancers spreadin’ the news, as your Broadway performers take the audience to the Big Apple with Sinatra’s classic, “New York, New York.” Sequined costumes, top hats and canes would make the routine extra punchy. Incorporate Rockette-like lines and formations and show off with Charlestons and traveling time steps.
Genre/Level: ballet (all levels)
Kinner & Co. created a magical tableaux of dolls come to life with its take on the Magic Toy Shop. The piece centered around two beautiful Can-Can dolls who try to avoid separation in a toy shop. With parts ranging from porters and street urchins to Russian dolls and the queen’s court, everyone got a chance to shine.
You could also recreate The Wizard of Oz, with parts for the littlest dancers to the most advanced ballerinas, including a ballet choreographed to “Over the Rainbow,” and a tap number to “If I Only Had a Brain.” Little girls can act as Dorothy’s “munchkins” in blue leotards, white tutus and red shoes, while older children interpret the scarecrow in cut-off, distressed T-shirts and tattered plaid button down shirts covered in hay.
Song: “Baby Face,” by Art Mooney
Genre/Level: beginner tap
Some of Arts Caravan’s youngest dancers serenaded their baby dolls while doing basic shuffles, ball changes, flaps and brushes in adorable mint green polka dot costumes. Instead of a full costume change for another number, they switched to ballet shoes and added half hula-hoops decorated with flowers to chasse, tendu and plié to music from The Sleeping Beauty.
You can also incorporate a medley of songs with Motown-era hits such as “One Fine Day,” by the Chiffons, “Lollipop,” by the Chordettes, and “All I Have to Do is Dream,” by the Everly Brothers. Girls can wear saddle shoes, bobby socks, poodle skirts and button down shirts. Use this routine to show off ballet, jazz and tap moves and don’t forget lollipops and pillows for props!
Bring the house down with a finale to crooner Michael Bublé’s remake of “Save the Last Dance for Me,” as your dancers imagine themselves on Dancing with the Stars. This is the perfect time to showcase the moves of some of your recreational classes, such as ballroom, tango, cha-cha, etc. Pair up dancers and have them execute across the floor moves, jazzy turns and spins, encouraging them to face the audience to “smile for the judges.” If you don’t want to invest in ballroom costumes, create your own with asymmetrical skirts, leotards and sequined appliqués, and suits from your male students own closets. DT
Lee Erica Elder is a freelance writer in New York City.