Monday, July 4, 2011

Synergy Arts Camp: 'The Paper Bag Princess', Day One

Welcome to the first week of Synergy Summer Arts Camp!  Our first week's theme is a personal favourite of my childhood, and I'm sure of many children everywhere - The Paper Bag Princess by Canadian author Robert Munsch!  I'll be introducing the kids to theatre and dance, while Alessandra will be introducing them to music and visual art.  We've put our heads together and come up with a most excellent plan of craftiness, artiness, theatre antics and music to your ears!  We'll be wrapping up on Friday with a little recital for their friends and family of what the kids learned - and they'll be premiering their play of a special, rewritten version of The Paper Bag Princess, never-before-seen!

Let's meet the campers!

Simran is six years old and loves singing, the colours pink and purple and the movie Tangled - as you can see from her t-shirt!  She also brings in her favourite book to read during free time, a book full of images and fun facts about the movie.  She is a very excellent reader!  Dante is five years old and likes the fun stuff that kids that age like - dinosaurs, superheroes and running around with an unlimited supply of energy!  He's got a fantastic imagination and is a very friendly and polite young man.  Rianna is nine years old and enjoys singing, dancing, modeling and acting - all natural talents!  Her favourite movies are the High School Musical series and will be a really big help in the dance portion of the day, having taken dance lessons for two years.  A great group of kids from the get-go - we're gonna have a great week!  Let's get started and into the 'Grand Ballroom', our dance studio with plenty of room to run and play!

We started the day with a little physical goof-off ... er, warm-up to get us physically limber and to get to know each other.  I had the kids pick animals that started with the letter of their first names, and we started creating some Hand Animals!
  • Warm-Up: Hand Animals (acceptance, encouragement, energy, creativity, improvisation) 
    • The game begins with examining our hands, coaching the kids to flex, wiggle, open and close their hands in different expressive manners, reminding them that other than our face, our hands are our most expressive part of our body.  After the kids have spent a few minutes experimenting with hand movement, I’ll give an example of how we can make our hand or hands into animals and creatures, such as spiders or birds.  Coach the kids into inventing their own hand animals.  Have them show the gesture to the group, with everyone trying it, as well.  A variation could be to encourage the kids to use body movements in the creation of their hand animals/creatures. 
    • What’s the benefit of this game?  This game helps encourage a trusting atmosphere where the kids feel they can contribute their best and have a sense of acceptance from each other.   This is also a great exercise in mirroring actions.

We introduced The Paper Bag Princess to the kids with a fun game to help bring the story to life, called The Soundtrack Game!  You can play this game with any storybook you read with your kids at home. 

    • Reading The Paper Bag Princess: Soundtrack Game (awareness, observation, improvisation, team building)
      • While we read The Paper Bag Princess, I would show the pictures and stopping at the most exciting ones or most action-orientated.  I would ask the kids to imagine all the sounds that we might hear if we were standing in the picture.   I would coach the kids and get really in-depth; for example, with a picture of the dragon flying away, leaving behind a burnt castle and disrobed princess (PBP, page 2), sounds such as the dragon’s wings, flames and smoldering smoke, rocks falling, birds chirping, bare feet shuffling on stone and much more could all be imagined and encouraged, making a complete soundtrack to the scene.  We’ll practice making the sounds while I’ll ‘conduct’, indicating louder and softer, building a soundtrack to the scene and eventually cutting the sound off like an orchestra conductor.  We continue on with the story, doing this with each exciting/action-orientated illustration.  We’ll return to the beginning of the book with the kids making the sounds automatically when the picture appears.  (The ‘orchestral cut-off’ may need to be used with enthusiastic younger kids, but the older ones usually stop when the page turns.)
      • What’s the benefit of this game?  The result is an added awareness and dimension to the story that can be identified to an action-based conclusion; ie. How would the dragon’s wings move to make such a sound?  With this exercise, we are building awareness of the surroundings within the scene and as actors who are observers in life.  This also helps identify and execute action for the next few movement games, especially with the potential inclusion of tableaus in this game.
      I had a chance to sort through the academy's props and costumes, setting aside the best stuff for the story.  Since we have two girls and one boy, we gave the story a little bit of a rewrite to suit our campers: Princess Simran and Princess Rianna are picking flowers and singing lovely songs in a sunny meadow outside of their beautiful castle, when Dante the Dragon hears them singing, burns down their castle and kidnaps Princess Simran for a tasty snack in his lair!  With only a paper bag to wear, Princess Rianna is off to rescue her friend from the clutches of the hungry dragon!  Will she be able to rescue Princess Simran and still look princess-like in her paper bag?  We will find out soon!  They were so excited about "the story made just for them," they wanted to act it out right away with the costumes and props.  Check out some of the costumes and props they've handpicked for their play!

      The kids were all ready to go and enjoyed some free-time 'dress-up' play - and Dante got into character right away once he got that dragon costume on!  He chased the 'princesses' around the dance studio, shaking his 'dragon fire' at them!  It was already a bonding moment between the three of them.

      We sat down and talked about what we needed for the rest of our set and props - a castle, trees, 'horses' bones' for the dragon's lair and a few other details the kids were so good to pick out.  Since 'Dante the Dragon' has to 'destroy' the castle, we decided to make it out of stacked cardboard boxes and paint them to look like a castle.  All he would need to do is kick it down.  He was quite happy to test it out!

      Rianna and Simran had decided to make some flowers for their 'meadow scene' while Dante worked out the best way to knock the castle down.  Thoughtful Simran turned to me and said, "We need two baskets!  Princesses put their flowers in baskets!"  She's right, you know!  I wrote it down right away so as not to forget to find them for the play.  (A cute little moment - she was surprised I was going to get them for her!)

      We had a very productive morning, full of creative play, positive energy and new friends.  I'll be writing the script tonight for the kids' special version of this story, and playing fun theatre games to help with our best performance!  Here are a few more snapshot of the morning's tomfoolery before we got our fancy feet moving into the dance of the day - ballet!

      Ballet comes from the Latin word ballare, meaning to dance.  Its origins trace all the way back to the 1500s in Italian Renaissance courts as dances regularly performed at aristocratic weddings by the guests.  It would become a formalized form of concert dance with the help of its development in countries like France and Russia.  Louis XIV, king of France in the 1600s, was known around the world for his talent as a ballet danseur and had a role created for him, Sun King in Ballet de la Nuit, written by Jean-Baptiste Lully.  Louis XIV's favourite ballet teacher, Pierre Beauchamp, created the five basic positions of the feet and arms that are taught in ballet technique even today!  Just think - you are learning what was taught to great kings!

      Choreographed ballet works also include elements of mime and acting, and are usually set to classical music.  One of the most popular ballet music composers is Pyotr Tchaikovsky, who wrote music for Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and his most famous, The Nutcracker!   Nowadays, ballet is danced to many types of music, including rock n' roll!

      Learning ballet is very hard work; it is highly technical with its own recognizable 'vocabulary' of movement and requires a lot of practice.  Its technique includes pointe work, turn-out of the legs and its graceful, flowing movements.  Professional ballet dancers look like they're floating on air!  The most popular form of ballet is called classical ballet, while there are also modern forms such as neoclassical ballet and contemporary ballet.

      We had a chance to try our 'turn-outs' and 'positions', as well as some plies and tendus.  I also had found a few videos of ballet dances that the kids absolutely loved! 

      I had chosen this video to showcase the humourous and playful side of a technique-heavy dance form.  The Coppelia Project: A Clown Ballet uses the mime and acting elements that were mentioned earlier!

      The Moscow Ballet is a famous international ballet company, with many dancers aspiring to study with their teachers.  This excerpt is from one of their performances of The Nutcracker, featuring beautiful technique and spirited dancing as the toys come to life!  Look at how they dance on their toes - that's called 'pointe work'.

      Karen Kain is Canada's most famous primaballerina and an international star!  She has danced with some of the best international ballet companies for over thirty years!  Now retired from ballet, she is the Artistic Director for the National Ballet of Canada.  Here she is, dancing a pas de deux - a 'dance duet' - with Frank Ausgustyn from the ballet Gisele.

      Little Dante wasn't too sure if boys could dance ballet, and we told him about a little boy named Billy Elliot who was one of the best ballet dancers ever.  He was so great at ballet, in fact, that they made a movie and a Broadway show about him!  Hopefully, he'll see this and believe us ...

      Can't wait to see everyone tomorrow!

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