Cygnets at the Top of the Rock

In a narrow hallway between the uptown and downtown observation decks of New York City’s Rockefeller Center, two dancers from ABT II performed the white and black swan variations on a slick tile floor in soft shoes while the audience of children ages 4–9 sat pretzel style on the floor. ABT II Director Wes Chapman played the part of the evil Von Rothbart, as Meaghan Hinkis (someone to definitely watch in the future) made about three full circles in the manège section of the black swan variation.

To promote this season’s production of Swan Lake, the company raffled off tickets, gave away T-shirts and old souvenir books, and provided ample time for the press to photograph this first-ever children’s workshop. Chapman gave a humorous narration of the ballet along with a brief introduction to ballet technique, and after the performance, Chapman pulled out the pièce de résistance.

What do you do with more than twenty children, limited space, slippery floors and Swan Lake music?  Freeze-dance. This game is a great way to not only round up rambunctious students; but to teach little artists about improvisation and musicality. Chapman put a nice twist on this old standard, as in each round, the children were urged to dance like the meek and shy Odette, or the sly and cunning Odile; actions that seemed to introduce the idea of character work.

Whether the girls were dressed in pink leotards with their hair neatly pulled back, or in sweats, bare-feet and loose, wild hair, every dancer seemed to love the activities.  Toothless smiles and bright eyes lit up the rainy afternoon; for after the obligatory pictures with the swans taken by their mothers, they had played freeze-dance with the very best in the field.

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