Youngsters showcase talents at Youth Festival II

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— A sharp group of Perry-Mansfield children will perform four dance acts and one theater performance this weekend to wrap up a summer of productions at the historic summer camp.

Youth Festival II is an opportunity for the second session of junior intermediate campers fifth- to eighth-grade students to show off their talent and what they have learned in the four-weeks of courses.

The performances start with four dance routines, covering ballet, jazz and modern styles. That is followed with a short play called "The Moon is Falling."

Interestingly, the Perry-Mansfield camp programs draw students from all over the nation to study dance, music, theater and writing. Inevitably, it mixes children of different ages and talents, providing a depth to its end-of-session performances.

"They are coming from a lot of different backgrounds," jazz dance instructor Tammy Dyke said.

And for this session, young artists are between 10 and 14 years of age, adding some levity to their experience which is basically intensive training away from home for four weeks.

"I think it's good for the kids," dance department head Linda Kent said. "Especially for the 10-year-olds. Four weeks is a long time."

Plus, they are testing themselves with their fellow classmates right off the bat. The auditions for the end-of-session performances are at the beginning of their camp experience. All the children audition for the different disciplines then are placed accordingly.

"It's very difficult," co-director Ron Trenouth said of the audition process.

"The kids were upset when they didn't get the parts they wanted."

However, for "The Moon is Falling," a story about a mythical land where war is accepted as good, parts were written in and casting was creative so all 36 participants felt as if they were doing something.

"We really found ways of involving everyone in the story," co-director Steven Wright said.

For example, in the play, the moon has decided to fall because it is sick of war. The moon directs three main characters on a mission in their war-stricken land to find three items. They must bring the items back to keep the moon from falling. To play the part of the moon, six actors were chosen, representing six dead soldiers.

Using this method helped alleviate some casting problems and lets more children be more directly involved.

But just because the dancers and actors are young doesn't mean they will put on a sophomoric performance. In fact, this particular crew of campers is being viewed as some of the most hardworking students that have come along in a while.

That makes it fun for the choreographers and directors, enabling them to put on a performance adults will enjoy.

"I really enjoy working with this age group," Wright said. "It's not just about fun. It's about taking it seriously. They aren't just doing a show, they are developing skills."

The subject matter of the play and the four dance performances, as well as the children's freedom to help create the piece, helps their development.

In the modern dance piece, choreographer Julie Ludwick centered the performance on a family of eight, a subject most youngsters can relate to. From there, she allows the dancers to come up with some of their own variations of the piece, which involves them in the creative process.

For the ballet piece, Lauren Main put together a contemporary piece, incorporating a normal street scene into dance.

There are two jazz dance acts. One portrays the emotions of being in a new place, very much like coming to camp.

The other is an adaptation from "Damn Yankees."

The last showing of the youth festival is at 7:30 p.m. today at the Julie Harris Theatre at Perry-Mansfield.

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