Monday, April 14, 2014

All That Jazz…

Caryn Ott Hillman, Opera for All Choreographer
6 very different CPS grade schools, 13 classes filled with a wide range of abilities, 3 different dance - all to honor the genre of JAZZ!

  With Duke Ellington in our COT season, it was really exciting to offer the opportunity to teach jazz in the classroom!  What a “cool” way to grab their ears but with the blaring brass of Goodman’s SING SING SING, the off beats of Gershwin’s FASCINATING RHYTHM or Tito Puente’s Latin soul in  OYE COMO VA.  (And I gotta say – choreographing all three was a BLAST…A dancer’s dream!)  I had the chance to introduce Tap Dance into the curriculum with the first two because jazz invites you to move your feet to same rhythm as the song’s.  Then, the Latin beat easily translated into moving your hips and cha-cha-ing to the phrases. 

   A lot of the kids totally embodied the COOLNESS of their jazz by adding their own onomatopoeia sound effects to the crash of the cymbal drum, vocal grunts to their more aggressive poses or their drastic volume contrasts between their foot stumps and their toe hops.  Truly,  the proof of them subliminally sensing the complexity of jazz comes alive when they have the opportunity to use their bodies and voices to imitate what they hear!  This is solely why we are here.  To enrich their minds with the creativity that music has to offer.  

     Sadly, as the Guest Artist Choreographer, I only had 2 hours with each class.  It was a quick introduction, throw a whole lot of physical exercise through dance at them, make them do it over and over (they hated me for that part!) and then I had to say good bye.  However, I did experience the characteristics of each classroom, all with very different dynamics. Believe it or not, some of the children that stood out as the most misbehaved became my Dance Captains because of their stellar “dance off” auditions to see who knew the combinations the best. It’s truly mind blowing how the physicality of movement-to-music can ignite the brains to those that appear to be unattached.  Having a daughter that has been diagnosed as ADHD, I know this first hand.  The language I speak best with my own daughter is MOVEMENT.

     I would have loved to have gotten to know each child more intimately, but my job does not allow for as much.  Alas, I received many hugs to know that I gave a gift – the love of dance through the awesomeness of JAZZ!
Students follow Ms. Ott's lead while learning the choreography

Learning Stage Directions

Heather Keith, Opera for All Teaching Artist Intern
After months of brainstorming, writing, and composing our operas are finally taking shape and the blocking process has started! This is probably my favorite part of any production and I think it’s becoming the student’s favorite part as well! It’s amazing to see the transformation that happens to a show once it’s “on it’s feet” and these operas are no different. One major change I have noticed in the early stages of blocking is how none of the students want to sit on the sidelines. Now that there are dances to be danced and fight chorography to be performed no one wants to miss out! 

Reilly students adding in some Taek won do moves to enhance the script
Before blocking was able to begin we took a moment to explain stage directions and the importance of not closing yourself off from the audience.  During a class at Chase, Dr. D'Agostino played a stage direction game, which was really effective in getting the students to understand not only which way to move, but why we move that way.  The students really loved this game and it made blocking later on much smoother.

During this process we have implored the help of the student assistant stage managers and I think this extra responsibility is something the students are really taking pride in.  One of the students I work with at Reilly is on the shy side, but now that she has the ability to be the go-to person for blocking questions, I can see she is coming out of her shell.  As for the rest of the students, it’s great to see what physical attributes they are assigning to their characters.  Each character is starting to have a distinct personality and the more individualized these characters are, the more confident the students become. All the students are pretty invested at the point and that I think is the key to great theater. These operas are going to be amazing and I’m so happy that I get to be a part of this process. 

Student at Reilly Elementary striking a confident pose in the middle of their class composed song

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Guiding Student Creativity into a Piece of Art

Stephen Carmody - COT Opera for All Guest Artist

My role in the program was to introduce the topic and profession of a designer, focusing on sets, costumes, and props for the theatre.  We also had to construct  these elements for each school's physical production.  Given less than 2 hours for each class, I was slightly intimidated.  But after reading the scripts developed by the young students of the program, it was clear I did not need to introduce imagination or creativity; these kids had it. 

My goal was to create a class that would allow the students to be in control and express themselves to design their show.  I merely provided the art supplies and helped with the hot glue gun.   Because every production took place in Chicago, the students were excited to recreate a Chicago skyline for their backdrop.  I came to the first class with a variety of craft materials, research images, and cardboard cut-out skyscrapers. Students quickly cleared the center of their classroom and began to cut, glue, and collage.  Each student created their own building.  Some buildings were representative of real architecture, ("I'm going to make the Willis Tower!") others were fictional versions of the city, ("I'm going to put my name on this building!"). 

It was messy.  Glue dripped, and glitter was poured, but in the end, each student's uniquely creative building was attached together and formed one giant skyline.  The students stepped back and smiled at the work they created together.  Shorty after that initial shock one girl proclaimed, "It's beautiful!". 

I very much agreed.