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Small Steps on to the big stage

Thirteen local middle school and elementary school performed in Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions, while the artwork of some Lehigh Valley elementary school children formed the ballet's production design and choreography.

The saying "there are no small roles, only small actors" appeared to hold particularly true in a specially commissioned work which was presented at Zoellner Arts Center back on January 26.

Jellyfish, centipedes and tree bugs—pivotal roles in Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions—came to life on stage thanks to 13 local middle and elementary school students, some making their theatrical debut.

Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions is a ballet based on a children’s poem that tells the story of a young boy who loves to dance but is forbidden by his father. Searching for a way to express himself, the boy transports himself into a strange, empty world populated with amazing and colorful beings.

It’s actually a big step for Deborah Sacarakis, Zoellner’s director of programs and outreach, who was first inspired to write the story 20 years ago. The performance was commissioned to honor Zoellner’s 10th season. “I was inspired by watching dancers and the way children respond to live dance performances,” says Sacarakis. “I wanted to have a project that would suitably commemorate that milestone.”

The performance was the culmination of an outreach project with elementary schools in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton that introduced students to creativity and movement through workshops. Some of the performers first heard the Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions poem during a workshop two years ago, where they were encouraged to tap their own imaginations. “We told them not to be afraid to express the thoughts that they have,” says Sacarakis. “For some of these students, it was a brand new experience.”

The performance was a real coming together for both the arts community at Lehigh and the community as a whole, and reflected Zoellner’s desire to make theatre accessible and enjoyable to all ages. The ballet was accompanied by live music written by Lehigh University director of choral arts Steven Sametz, and featured choreography by Pascal Rioult, renowned dancer, choreographer, and artistic director of the New York-based Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre. Costume and sets were designed by associate professor of theatre Drew Francis.

During the creativity workshops, the local elementary students created artwork based on Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions, some of which went on to inform the production design and choreography.

The Jan. 26 program also included Pascal Rioult’s innovative and unique interpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s renowned Firebird.

Both performances of Small Steps, Tiny Revolutions were followed by Pascal Rioult’s innovative and unique interpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s renowned Firebird. In Rioult’s version, the character of the Firebird is danced by a young girl who battles the demons of apathy and hopelessness, restoring a stricken village from the brink of oblivion. Both pieces celebrated the power of innocence and art to bring new life to a cynical and troubled world.

The project was supported by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, The Rider-Pool Foundation, The Morning Call, Just Born and a commissioning consortium. A special talk was delivered by Sacarakis before the January 26 show, where she discussed the process of commissioning new works for Zoellner.

--Tricia Long

Posted on Wednesday, January 16, 2008

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