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Students Leap at Opportunity to Perform Ballet

Culture: Channel Islands troupe brings the dance to Oxnard schools. Youngsters will team up with the professionals.

January 31, 2002|JENIFER RAGLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Looking at him in his scruffy T-shirt, sweatpants and tennis shoes, you would never guess that Glovani Hernandez loves to dance.

Four months ago, the chubby-cheeked 8-year-old didn't really know it, either. Living in the La Colonia neighborhood of Oxnard, the extent of his creative movement had been lunging for a basketball on the Ramona Elementary School playground.

But then, they brought ballet to the barrio.

Last week, the shy third-grader, arms outstretched at his sides, swooped and swirled. He stomped his feet, slapped his hands and moved to a tribal beat.

"It makes me feel happy," Glovani said, after rehearsing a dance piece created by the Camarillo-based Channel Islands Ballet.

Tonight, he and about 320 other youngsters from Ramona and Driffill elementary schools will give a public performance of "Breezes of the Sea: A Multicultural Dance Adventure" at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center.

The production culminates weeks of training at each school as part of Arts for Youth, an outreach program of the ballet company. Begun more than a decade ago, the program has expanded to include a student performance this year, thanks to a $48,800 state grant.

"These kids are learning what being an artist is and that there are possibilities out there for them to perform," said Yves de Bouteiller, the ballet company's choreographer. "By dancing, they also gain self-confidence. There is a discovery that they can actually do this sort of thing."

Ashley Villavicencio, 8, said working with the dancers who visit Ramona has strengthened her dreams of becoming a ballerina.

"When I was 3 years old I knew I wanted to do the ballet," she said. "I like how they stretch."

Bouteiller has worked with teachers in each grade level at both schools to tie the content of the dance piece he and the dancers created to lessons the children are learning in language arts, science and social studies.

First-graders learning about the difference between fact and fiction play mermaids and mermen. Sixth-graders studying ancient civilizations dance as Greek gods. Second-graders learning about ocean life become fish in the production.

And at Ramona last week, Bouteiller and two of the company's professional ballerinas helped two third-grade classes practice a dance interpretation of a famous Chumash Indian tale.

The story goes that Hutash, the Earth goddess, created their people from seeds she made from a magic plant on Santa Cruz Island. As the people thrive and the island becomes too crowded, she decides to make a rainbow bridge that many can cross to the mainland.

But some of the tribe looked down as they were crossing, became dizzy and fell. Before they hit the ocean, Hutash turned them into dolphins so they would not drown.

During a dress rehearsal at the performing arts center Wednesday, Bouteiller watched as the story came to life.

Dancing alongside the children, who wore colorful homemade costumes, were professionals from the ballet company.

"We are very impressed," Bouteiller told the students before practicing the grand finale. "You guys did a wonderful job."

Integrating the performing arts into the elementary schools has become increasingly crucial, as budget cuts over the years have all but eliminated art and music programs in many schools statewide, officials said.

Since the Channel Islands Ballet Company launched the program in 1991 with a ballet demonstration for 1,200 students, it has expanded it and now offers annual performances for schoolchildren, classroom visits and training for young ballerinas.

"This has given us an opportunity to make the arts a vehicle for learning," said Eva Leckman, an Oxnard Elementary School District administrator who has helped coordinate this year's production. "It really is so exciting for these students."

Kathleen Dwyer, a new member of the ballet company, said she has been impressed with the students' grasp of the choreography.

"They're incredible," she said. "Some of the sixth-grade boys were so shy at first. But now you can see it in their faces, they know they've accomplished something."

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The Channel Islands Ballet Company Arts for Youth program will perform "Breezes of the Sea: A Multicultural Dance Adventure" at 7 p.m. in the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, 800 Hobson Way. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door. For more information, call (805) 384-8558.

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