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W&L, Rockbridge Ballet, Schoolchildren Collaborate on Dance Project

Washington and Lee University’s Teacher Education Program, the Rockbridge Ballet and local schoolchildren have collaborated on a project titled “Where the Page Meets the Stage: The Art of Storytelling through Words and Movement.” It will debut on Nov. 22 and 23 during the Rockbridge Ballet’s 2014 Winter Concert at W&L’s Lenfest Center for the Arts.

“Where the Page Meets the Stage” is the brainchild of co-directors Haley Sigler, assistant director of teacher education at W&L, and Jessica Pyatt Martin, artistic director of the Rockbridge Ballet.

During the summer, 22 children from the Rockbridge community created stories to be interpreted and performed by the Rockbridge Ballet. A choreographer from the ballet helped them develop each story, and Sigler advised the choreographers on writing with children. The children took home an anthology of the four stories they had created and that will be performed.

“To launch our workshop, we began with the students watching some recent performances by the Rockbridge Ballet and then we worked backwards,” said Sigler. “What decisions did the choreographer make as a storyteller? What decisions did the costume designer make? How did lighting help to tell the story—all the different pieces that work together to tell a story on stage.”

Sigler enjoyed learning about the connections between storytelling with the written word and storytelling with dance. “For example, writers repeat language for effect, and that corresponds to the term phrase in choreography where you have a signature movement,” she said. “The medium of storytelling is integral to any art form, and we wanted to give the children the opportunity to see how the choices they make as authors mirror the choices choreographers make.”

Student Anna Barrash said that working collaboratively with others was her favorite part of the experience. Her parents, Sarah and Eric Barrash, liked their daughter’s exposure to what goes into creating a story and to the dance component of the project.

Farishte Irani was equally impressed with her daughter Parizad’s experience. “It was wonderful to see a group of young children sharing thoughts and ideas to create such magical pieces of literature. Their words began by dancing in their heads to dancing on paper, and soon they will come to life and be dancing on the stage,” she said. Her daughter also enjoyed picking out the costumes.

“Kids don’t necessarily always see themselves as writers,” said Sigler. “I think a lot of the time we take the joy out of writing for children. But when they had the opportunity to see themselves not simply as writers, but storytellers with the opportunity to share their stories with others, they were motivated and excited.”

The audience at the Rockbridge Ballet performance will be able to read the stories behind the dances and see a short documentary about their creation before the dancers bring the authors’ work to life on the stage.

“Where the Page Meets the Stage” is one of W&L’s and the Rockbridge Ballet’s community engagement activities and is supported by the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Cornerstone Bank and Shenandoah Dental Studio.

Performances take place at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 22 and 23. The program includes a performance of “Peter Pan.” To buy tickets, see rockbridgeballet.org.