Perry-Mansfield students shine

'Youth Festival I' performance and dance concert starts Thursday

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A traditional student recital will take an unconventional turn for fifth- through ninth-grade students performing at Perry-Mansfield tonight.

"Youth Festival I" features an original theatrical performance and a dance concert with ballet, modern and jazz pieces that the students have been studying since they arrived at the camp four weeks ago. The students' roles were cast the day after they arrived in Strawberry Park. Since then, each student has experienced a demanding schedule of classes and rehearsals under the nurturing influence of professional actors and dancers who are spending their summer teaching at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp.

The Thursday and Friday night shows are the grand finale for Perry-Mansfield's first summer session of aspiring performance artists.

Perry-Mansfield theater teacher Elizabeth London, who teaches Shakespeare for American Globe Theatre when she's not at camp, has created and directed an original play for 40 young actors. Her play is a melding of music, movement and text that incorporates excerpts from plays, poems and books, with song from musical theater, pop and The Beatles, she said.

The unifying theme is growth and travel across distance and time, London said. She said she wanted to tackle living creatively and living with hope in a crazy world.

In one section, London used pieces of luggage to stage a creative movement piece, asking her students to explore the idea of immigration and exploration in a new land.

"I try to let them come up with their ideas," London said. "I want them to feel that they are expressing themselves, their true selves. Everyone gets a moment to shine."

Perry-Mansfield dance students will perform choreography by three dance faculty members.

Catherine Green, a veteran New York City dancer and teacher, has choreographed an original ballet to music by Jacques Offenbach. It is a traditional ballet, complete with heroine sisters, fairies and a mystical journey, Dance Director Linda Kent said.

"It's a lively adventure," Kent said.

Jennifer Golonka has danced with several modern dance and ballet companies in New York, including Buffalo and New York City. She brings an original modern choreography called "Daily Rituals" to the dancers at Perry-Mansfield.

Nine dancers, most of whom have not had classical modern training, will be dancing in a way they never have before, Golonka said.

"I give them the movement, and they have to bring themselves into it -- dance the way they want to dance," Golonka said.

Perry-Mansfield dance instructor Bryan Steele danced with Prometheus Dance for 13 years and taught at the Boston Ballet and Walnut Hill summer dance programs, each of which has presented his choreography. For Youth Festival I, he presents a Bob Fosse medley for 12 junior dancers. The piece will reflect Fosse's musical theater style as interpreted by Steele's movements, to the tunes of "Razzle Dazzle" and "Dancin' Dan."

For the theater students who learned Steele's dance number, choreography that includes lip-syncing was in line with the musical theater themes they were comfortable with, Steele said. But dance is something new for many of them.

"They're accustomed to being on stage, but this is a little different," Steele said.

Friday night's show is sold out, but there are limited tickets available for Thursday's "Youth Festival I" performance.

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