Students shine at Youth Festival I

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At 11 years old, dance students already are starting to ask the big questions of their teachers: "How old were you when you decided you were going to be a dancer?"and, "How many classes were you taking at my age?"

"A lot of the girls are quite serious (about dance)," Perry-Mansfield dance instructor Catherine Green said.

As professional dancers and actors take their chance to get out of New York for the summer, Perry-Mansfield students (ages 11 to 14) take their chance to learn from the best.

This weekend, the students of Perry-Mansfield's junior summer arts camp will be showing Steamboat Springs what they've learned in four weeks of intensive study.

This summer, Perry-Mansfield hired three dance instructors for its junior intermediate students. Green has performed with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and BalletMet in Ohio earlier in her career. For the past 13 years, she has been living in New York City as a dancer and dance teacher.

Green choreographed a piece called "Buttercup, Thistle and Wild Rose" for three ballet students.

The dance is based on a 1930s children's book by Cicely Mary Barker whose characters are flowers. Green watched her students dance and then assigned each the flower they most personified. The piece is a classical ballet -- in contrast to the other pieces -- that opens the Youth Festival I.

Jennifer Golonka, whose credits include performances with the Kun-Yang Lin Dancers and the Albania Ballet Company, choreographed the modern piece, "Journey."

"It's about finding yourself and realizing that you can be strong on your own," Golonka said. "It's valuable for girls this age. I've watched them gain a lot of confidence in rehearsal, and I've really watched them improve."

The piece tells a story where the dancers are together one moment but more often alone. Their spines straighten and slump with their passing emotions. It's an interesting piece to watch as an adult woman. The girls walk through a journey they cannot possibly understand. But the choreographer understands, and her language is written on their bodies.

The last dance of the Youth Festival I is an upbeat piece from the Broadway musical, "Hairspray." The song, "Mama I'm a Big Girl Now" keeps the audience interested simply by the smiles on the dancers' faces. It's all too obvious they are having a great time.

After a brief intermission, the stage fills again, this time with 26 theater students. At first, however, it's hard to make the mental transition from dance to theater because director Elizabeth London incorporates movement deeply into her work.

Her piece, "Our Divine Madness," is a collage of music and theater pieces that London worked together into a themed production.

"We decided to explore summer as an idea," London said. The resulting play is not so much a story, she said, as a piece book-ended with the beginning and end of the season. Using so many elements allowed London to play to her students' strengths.

"My goal is to show the students that theatre is only real when it is a collaboration where everyone is equal. I gave every student a moment to shine."

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