Originally published in SunPost on April 7, 2011
The setting for Momentum Dance Company’s performance of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling is wonderfully naturalistic. At last Saturday’s 11:00 a.m. performance, the enormous picture windows of the Miami-Dade Public Library in Coral Gables unveiled a sunny, verdant background for the fairy tale about an awkward duckling who transforms into a beautiful swan.
Free and open to the public, The Ugly Duckling is the final performance in a four-part series designed to connect children and families with dance. Bringing dance to children means they get to put in their aesthetic two cents; therefore, sticky fingers, shouts, giggles, and an occasional indignant cry served to make the minimalistic set equally realistic.
Sound effects aside, Momentum’s five dancers and artistic director Delma Iles held the attention of kids and parents alike. Some of the older children seemed mesmerized. The choreography, a collaborative effort between the dancers and Iles, is expressive, playful, and story driven. It is also resourceful. The dancers emphasize movement and expression. The rest is up to the imagination of each child. A simple cloth represents a marsh. Hand puppets hint at a barnyard full of farm animals.
The five dancers (Erika Johnson, Tiffanie Hancock, Katie Sopoci, Amy LaRue, and Allisen Lennard) are agile movers. They waddle, arch their backs, and flap their elbows. Johnson brings a good-natured energy to her duckling with undertones of loneliness. Thankfully this makes the duckling’s triumph more about perseverance than concepts of “pretty” and “ugly.” LaRue was particularly entertaining in her paw-licking portrayal of a finicky cat, and Delma Iles adds an element of comedy as a persnickety, pinched-faced Peking duck
Two things impressed me about Momentum’s portrayal of this perennial tale. First, I love how the dance is performed in conjunction with a recording of the story. The company could have performed with music, but the connection to the oral rendition of the tale adds a narrative dimension, connecting the children to dance and storytelling.
Second and most importantly, this is not a dance company mechanically fulfilling the educational component for the sake of a grant. These dancers really seem to like children. Afterwards each dancer worked with a small group of kids. There were wildly enthusiastic flocks of eagles, ducks, and butterflies hopping about. Ethereal sugar plum fairies have their charm, but Momentum is giving children and families a chance to witness the transformation of dance up close. Momentum’s story of how an ugly duckling turns into a graceful swan is also the tale of how a dance company took the time to share their craft with a very young, eager audience.