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Children's Hours

September 21, 1986|CHRIS PASLES | Chris Pasles is a free-lance writer specializing in the arts.

Fourth-graders from Orange County will be the first children to attend educational programs presented on the West Coast by members of New York City Ballet and New York City Opera.

Two one-hour presentations will be held during the time the two companies are at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. New York City Ballet's program is scheduled for Oct. 16, New York City Opera's for Jan. 22, 1987. Curtain time for both will be 11 a.m.

The two companies have long had educational programs--the ballet's going back to 1972 and the opera's to 1966--but neither has ever been presented outside New York's tri-state area.

The West Coast appearances are being sponsored by a $32,000 grant provided jointly by the Los Angeles Times and its parent firm, Times Mirror Co.

"This program reflects the Los Angeles Times' and Times Mirror Co.'s commitment both to the arts and education," says Tom Johnson, publisher and chief executive officer of The Times.

"It is particularly meaningful to us because the program will reach several thousand Orange County young people, many of whom have limited--or no--exposure to opera and ballet. We hope the excitement of these live performances by two such outstanding performing groups, and in this beautiful new center, will make a positive and lasting impression on these young people."

About 5,700 children from the 25 county school districts will be invited to attend. Preliminary sessions, to provide teachers with information about the performances, will be held two weeks before each event.

"These programs are certainly a plus for music education in Orange County," says Marie Clement, coordinator of fine arts for Orange County's Department of Education. "When you reach children at that age, they can develop a love for ballet and opera. And this will expose them to a dimension of life they might otherwise not get.

"It's going to be thrilling for them," Clement says. In the ballet presentation, 17 dancers will introduce the basics of the art form and draw on the program scheduled at the center, says Michelle Audet, director of education at New York City Ballet. Company principal dancers Sean Lavery and Maria Calegari will act as hosts.

"We'll give the kids a look at the technique that makes a dancer--the turnout, steps and positions," Audet says. "We'll show them how dancers train at the barre , how they learn to move quickly and slowly, how ballerinas learn to dance on pointe and how dancers learn to turn and to partner.

"We'll also emphasize the way music affects the style of a ballet and how contemporary ballet combines parts of jazz, ballroom and tap with classical ballet technique to create a new and different style.

"We're very enthusiastic about these programs. They're among the most successful educational programs we do, and we know they're successful because the kids go out dancing."

The opera presentation will feature four singers, who will alternate spoken explanations with staged excerpts from "Candide," "Madama Butterfly" and "Carmen"--the three works New York City Opera will perform at the center, according to Lian Farrer, director of education for the company.

"The program will allow kids to learn the various voice categories, how the singers relate to one another and how they express dramatic ideas," Farrer says.

"The company members will sing predominantly in English, but they'll also sing in a foreign language to show that you can still understand what's going on from the music and the acting.

"We'll also show that it's possible in opera to express four ideas simultaneously, when four singers are singing at once--even though if all four were speaking together, it would be a mess.

"We generally look for pieces that have not just entertainment value but that also make a point about opera and represent a range of genres, nationalities, periods and styles."

Farrer finds that the program works well "to demystify opera to young people. Opera can be very intimidating, and many people have a lot of misconceptions about it. But this makes it more accessible by giving kids the tools to understand it."

Center Executive Director Thomas Kendrick is enthusiastic about the programs: "This allows us to bring two of the finest companies in the country into the region, and it gives a substantial number of youngsters a chance to see that kind of talent. It will expose kids to opera and ballet in a way that would otherwise be impossible. The emotional impact by companies of that caliber is tremendous at that age.

"This is an ideal example of what we ultimately want to do," adds Kendrick.

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