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O. C. LIVE | KID STUFF

Old MacDonald, New Gig

Ballet Pacifica hopes its youth series, this season opening with the premiere of 'Farm,' will help keep children up on dance.

September 26, 1996|CORINNE FLOCKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The hens are having a cat fight; the sheep rules the roost, and the cow dreams of soaring with the goose. Cue the roosters--another day is dawning down on the farm.

That would be "Old MacDonald's Farm," a children's ballet premiering this weekend in Laguna Beach. Choreographed and directed by Gillian Finley and performed by a 20-member cast, the lighthearted piece is the season opener for Ballet Pacifica's 1996-97 children's series.

"Old MacDonald's Farm" will be performed by Ballet Pacifica on Saturday and Sunday at the Festival Forum Theatre. Also on the program is a revival of "The Shoemaker and the Elves," choreographed by Kathy Kahn and staged by Ballet Pacifica artistic director Molly Lynch. The hourlong program is recommended for children age 3 to 10.

"Old MacDonald's Farm" blends classical ballet and American traditional music and dance. Finley said it is designed to be as entertaining for newcomers as for children who study ballet or regularly attend dance performances.

"A lot of the classical ballet vocabulary is there, like the pas de chat [and] the grand jete," explained Finley, a member of the Ballet Pacifica conservatory staff who choreographed "Safari" for last year's children's series.

"But that can be a little overwhelming for some children," she continued. "So to make it fun and entertaining for everybody, I've mixed in some pantomime and comic movement and given the characters a lot of personality and humorous situations."

With assistance from costumers Emily Kurashige and Steven Inskeep, she's also given them piggy snouts, floppy chicken feet and a species-appropriate array of whiskers, ears, tails and hooves to create a look she compares to a children's pop-up storybook.

Thus outfitted, the characters demonstrate a typical day on the farm, Finley-style: Chickens squabble over the merits of their eggs; a sheep leads a goat, a goose and a klutzy cow in a barnyard ballet class and Old MacD (danced by Inskeep) hosts an impromptu hoedown for the whole gang.

Except for a few hoots and hollers, there is no dialogue in "Old MacDonald," nor in any of the children's series pieces. Instead, the tale is told through movement, pantomime and facial expression, which, as Finley points out, is how story lines often unfold in ballets written for older audiences.

It's one of several ways children's ballets can help young viewers develop a deeper and, she hopes, lifelong appreciation for dance.

"We bring in elements that give children a realistic picture of what they can expect in the future," Finley said. "At a concert ballet, you often see mixed repertory performed with an intermission in between [the pieces], and you would often see works that incorporate several dance and musical styles. We do all those things here too."

The remainder of the troupe's season will include two more premieres and several pieces from its growing repertory of children's works.

"Twelve Dancing Princesses" and the debut of "Tubby the Tuba," choreographed by Lynch, will be performed Feb. 22-23. The season continues April 26-27 with "The Hilarious Tales of Peter Rabbit" and the premiere of Inskeep's "Jack and the Beanstalk" and closes May 17-18 with performances of "The Ugly Duckling" and "Something's Fishy." Season subscriptions are still available, as are some single tickets.

In addition to its professional dance series, which starts next month at Irvine Barclay Theatre, Ballet Pacifica will present its annual holiday staging of "The Nutcracker" Dec. 13-24, also at the Irvine Barclay.

While they hope their programs will captivate even very young children, Finley and artistic director Lynch agree that parents are the best judges of what type of ballet experience is appropriate for their children.

"Certainly there are children who can go to an adult ballet and keep up with the themes and the story lines and really enjoy themselves," Finley said.

"You have to look at the maturity and the tastes of the individual child," she continued. "If your child isn't ready for that, I would hate to see them build a negative attitude about ballet because they went [to an adult concert] and were bored. I think it's better to start them in kindergarten, so to speak, than push them into college."

* What: Ballet Pacifica's "Old MacDonald's Farm" and "The Shoemaker and the Elves."

* When: 11:30 a.m., 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

* Where: Festival Forum Theatre, 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.

* Whereabouts: From the San Diego (405) Freeway, exit at Laguna Canyon Road (Highway 133) and drive west. The theater is on the right on the Festival of the Arts grounds.

* Wherewithal: $8-$11 for single tickets; season subscriptions are $28-$37.

* Where to call: (714) 851-9930.

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