‘The Emperor and the Nightingale.’
By Sue Langenberg
It was a wonderful event Friday at The Sullivan Center in Rockford when The Children’s Dance Theater had an opportunity to tell a story to other children in the audience. When youth tells the story to other youth, there is unexpected magic.
It was a special performance to appreciate Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Emperor and The Nightingale,” a tale of frogs, fishermen and a magic bird. And oh yes, an emperor with his colorful and bejeweled surroundings.
Choreographed by Margaret Faust, it was not merely a bunch of music with a bunch of dancers. It was a compilation of everything necessary to suspend the reality for the moment and take the audience elsewhere. Thus the world went with its busy self outside, but inside the theater (the site of the former New American Theatre) was an extraordinary happening. The youthful segment of Rockford Dance Company that gives the opportunity to learn, grow and experience dance arts have a special place in our community as well as the audience that learns, grows and experiences the process. There is inspiration at every turn.
And all of that, thanks to visionary Faust.
Igor Stravinsky was the composer of note. That could have been a mere intellectual addition to the program but in this production, the late composer had a major role as narrator. It was a perfect opening to interact with the audience and garner its attention. By the time narrator Jesse Kuntz rubbed his palms and resonated, “…watch and listen,” the children were watching and listening, for sure.
There were adults, also, to tell the tale. Ron Foran as Emperor has become a familiar RDC character role and stage presence. With his other life as an opera singer, he is no novice about stepping into dance, especially when there are vocal arrangements within the body of the work, as this ballet. His body takes on an even deeper sense of the role as if the need to vocalize emanates from within.
Larry Pool as the convincing fisherman and other parts that require a costume change was sturdy and steady as partner to Nightingale Rachel Seger as she enchanted the story about. Seger’s sense of joy and performance was and is an ongoing lesson to all that pursue the ballet as an art form. She directed the eye upward, thus elevating our sense of appreciation. Dance was born to defy gravity, after all. She was a pleasant reminder that the thankless daily battle with technique is all forgotten when stepping onto the stage (though she was quite technical, also).
Ensemble parts including the frogs, a stray cow, courtiers and other various roles to tell the story were equally important. That would include Anastasia Benson, Katie Davis, Anna Gibbons, Bailey Glavan Michael Galiano, Sara Maxey, Hillary Mellinger, Anna Moczynski, Gabby Myers, Emma Porter, Maddy Shaw, Ed Stiltner, Alli Tennant, Maddy Wellen and Lily Wellen.
If one looks closely, there is a creative way to recycle various costumes from ballet to ballet. That would be the genius of long time costume designer Julie Seger with the sashes in the emperor scene and maybe a stray cow head. Hmmm, they might have been seen before.
But those things hardly mattered in the bigger picture because when the lights dimmed on the last step, there was certainly renewed inspiration.