Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 3:57 PM on Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Young dancers delight

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

After three weeks with artist Jerry Falek of Santa Cruz, Calif., kindergarten- through sixth-grade students at McNeil Canyon Elementary School showed off for family and friends Thursday with an "Evening of Dance."

"Kindergarten, first-, second-, third- and fifth-graders were all doing creative movement," said Debbie Piper, who coordinates McNeil Canyon's artist-in-school program.

The fifth-graders choreographed their own piece, a combination of athleticism and artistic movement similar to that of dance company Pilobolus.

Fourth-graders performed a folk dance. Sixth-graders did a swing dance, complete with poodle skirts.

In the middle of the performance, McNeil Canyon teachers took to the floor. Using the school's dragon costume, they performed a tribute to the school's mascot and to the Chinese New Year, which began Jan. 23 and is the year of the dragon.

At the end of the evening, the audience was invited to join the students for a community square dance.

"We pushed the bleachers back and had 12 lines of dancers," said Piper of the enthusiastic response to the invitation to take part in the evening.

Returning to their classrooms at the end of the performance, students were each given a small bouquet of flowers.

"That's what happens when you're a dancer, you get flowers at the end of the dance," said Piper of offering the youngsters a complete dance experience.

This is Falek's fifth residency in 10 years at McNeil Canyon.

During two of those visits, he and the students created a circus; one residency focused on storytelling; and this is the second dance residence.

Originally planned for two weeks, Falek's time at the school was extended to three weeks to include several days at Voznesenka School and to accommodate make-up days resulting for a snow day earlier this school year.

"The longer time allowed us to immerse ourselves in a thematic unit on movement," said Piper.

"We read stories on dance and various kinds of dance and movement, we made mobiles, did visual art that showed movement, looked at visual rhythms and the connection in dance between rhythm and movement."

Displays of artwork created by the students as a result of the study decorated the school's walls. A collaborative piece — "The Joy of Spontaneous Delight" — provided a backdrop for the dancers.

"Each kid had a chance to add any kind of dimensional paper they wanted. Some made spirals, some weavings. They all crisscrossed and blended together to make a fairly abstract thing with movement and color," said Piper.

Falek's artist-in-school residency was partially funded by the state Legislature through three entities: the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rasmuson Foundation. In addition, McNeil Canyon Community Council provided additional financial support.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.