Saturday, October 11, 2008


By Paul Gordon Emerson

Doors and windows. As in opened and closed. The old saw "when God closes a door he opens a window." Religious allusions aside, I've always seen that metaphor by noting that walking out of a door usually lands you on a threshold. Stepping outside a window....

This probably has something to do with growing up on the 11th floor of a Manhattan high rise. The flip side of course is you can see a lot further looking through the window than the door.

For whatever reason this is basically what went through my head when I picked up a message about two weeks ago from the Director of Education of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. It was hard to tell if she had been thrown through the door or out the window, but it wasn't pretty. But the call for help opened a window to a chance to dance with one of the great orchestras in the world. Two new dances, both for a kids program, to the music of Tchaikovsky and Ravel. Not much money, but enough. Not much time, but....but...but...enough?

The trick to making dances for kids is that you can't be afraid of them. And that, in turn, means being willing to let them laugh. It also means romance and beauty. Or, as Liz put it the other day, Disney by Numbers. That might sound cynical, but it's not. We love Disney films for a reason. How many of us are to this day traumatized by Bambi's mother being shot off camera, or the forest fire? We see things through 5, 6 and 7 year old eyes with such wonder.

It's far too easy to get complicated when you make dances "for adults." I still don't know what that's about, though I fall prey to it just as much as the next person. But when it's about kids you get to strip that away and remember that honesty, leavened with a bit of slapstick, is what you need.

Welcome to "Beauty, the Beast...and the three ducks." Take Jerome as the handsome prince, Liz as Beauty, put them in elegant and classic costumes. Add in Kate, Maggie and Daniel, and put them in....well...yellow unitards with orange feathers and big butts. Any guess what it means to ask professional dancers who spend years training to be graceful to go out on stage in front of a world class orchestra and a couple thousand kids looking like a cartoon? Yeah.

But they nailed it. There's really nothing like the sound of laughter from little people. It powers a room even if you turn off the lights. Jerome walked out and there was a collective sigh from the girls. Liz entered and there was more. The ducks came out, and Daniel bounded onto the stage and crashed to the floor and there was....laughter; which went on until he left the stage 5 minutes later.

It's what you live for. Something you can hear for days. Through an open window and a closed door.

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