CityStep Directed by Sabrina T. Peck '84 at Sanders Theater March 10 at the Loeb Drama Center March 11
TO DANCE IS TO PLAY, and to play is to be a kid. This is the message of CityStep, a dance theater production directed and choreographed by Sabrina T. Peck '84. The CityStep company, composed of 16 Harvard undergraduates, has combined forces with Cambridge public school children to produce a charming and witty dance extravaganza. As if this were not enough of a display of unique talent, the music is original as well, providing a particularly expressive accompaniment for the entire range of dances.
On a general level, CityStep explores the question of what it means to be a kid growing up in the city. Fortunately, Peck doesn't use this theme as a spring board for heavy moralization Rather she seems just to have observed normal city school kids and to have captured their actions in dance. The choreography is sensitive to exactly how little children work. The dance entitled "Three Boys" is more a game in a school yard than a formal dance with conscious steps. It is about playing and skipping, fighting and pushing--all the essentials of a grade school friendship. Clad in appropriate jeans and sneakers, the young dancers run, jump and clap, acting out our own past lunchtime recesses.
Peck effectively draws upon just these childhood memories. We are amused by the dances inCityStep not just because the children are so winsome, but because they are reminders of our own, still vivid, elementary school memories. In the dance "Classroom", Peck uses only members from the CityStep company, blurring the distinction between adult and child. Suddenly we are oack in that interminable fifth grade history class, bothered by that hotshot who always knows the answers, scornful of the peabrain who thinks she knows the answer but then cannot get it out. The hands of the clock drag, boredom sets in. The dancers wriggle and twist, twirling their legs around their chairs in every possible expression of restlessness. The final deep sleep is roused only by a relentless, and all too familiar, bell.
The stern admonition to "stay in line" is another memorable childhood burden. Lunch lines, fire drill lines and assembly lines are only a few of the long list of our youthful linear formations. In "Lineupheaval" Peck takes this geometric concept one step further. She fills the stage with lines of kids wiggling, stamping, walking and hopping-doing practically everything you can do whie still staying in line. It is grammar school teacher's nightmare. Quite naturally, the temptation becomes too much. The lines collapse into chaotic scatterings of high-spirited, giggling, obstreperous kids.
PECK'S GREATEST ASSET is a lively imagination. In one piece, she sends her dancers on a library tour that initiates the young student into the awe inspiring depths of stacks of dusty volumes. But these industrious kids do more than just listen to the tour guide. They are literally and physically carried away by the "waves of knowledge" contained in the library. Their hands twitch at the thought of all that "knowledge at their fingertips." Almost all of the dances in the first act display this whimsy. It is a quality that enhances both the assumed playfulness of the older dancers and the artless concentration of the younger ones.
The second act strays from the type of naturalness so easily displayed in the first. Peck becomes almost too ambitious, attempting even an exploration of the sociological problems of a lower-class family. Although there is some genuine tension portrayed, the choreography becomes self-conscious and vague. We are never sure exactly what the troubles of this blighted family are. More successful, however, is the dance "Night Out/Nightmare," in which a kid's experience of street life becomes a haunting, expanding dream.
The first praise of the dancers must be awarded to the impressive attention span of the kids. These fifth and sixth graders not only perform the steps set before them with laudable accuracy and energy, they manage also to remember all of the long and complex sequences. A special mention must go to Albert Silva who, while biting intently on his lower lip, dances with spirit and stage presence beyond his years.
The Harvard undergraduate performers are a diverse and interesting bunch. While some seem almost saw, though not ineffective, others have obvious balletic or jazz training. Alan Shaw, as the shadow in "Kid and Shadow," tenses Eduardo Fuentes with both his dazzline footwork and his impish grin. Throughout the program, Stanford Makishi exudes charisma with every step, strut and slide. In both "Classroom" and "Library Tour" Catherine Musinsky is particularly expressive. As her face registers the gamut of feelings from surprise to confusion, she dances with a soft, musical bouyancy. While CityStep is partially a showcase for these indented Harvard dancers, it is mostly and adventure for the Cambridge public school children. They are not only learning about dancing, they are learning a little bit about the glamour of performing. After carefully printing out her first name for an autograph sacker, one little girl asked shyly, "Do I put my last name also?" Who knows what that signature my be worth in 20 years.