When was the last time you danced? I mean really danced, with total abandon and joy in the moment, like a 6-year-old stretching out rigid arms and legs and bopping across the room like a happy bug?
Well, perhaps not the bug part.
But then again, you probably aren't one of the lucky elementary school students among those attending Friday's special performances of the ballet "Beauty and the Beast" at the Saroyan Theatre. Students from four county schools will recognize the part in the show when colorful "insects" in the Beast's glorious garden shake and glide across the stage.
That's because of the educational component of the Valley Performing Arts Council's strong partnership with The State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara. For the past five years, the ballet company has brought a family-friendly story ballet to the Saroyan. As in previous years, one performance is open to the public (a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee), while two the day before are reserved for dozens of area schools.
Children at all three performances will encounter what for many will be a new experience -- a world in which colorful costumes, fanciful settings and beautiful orchestral music come together to create a place in which grown-ups dance. (And for a living!)
This "Beauty and the Beast" is an original retelling of the classic fairy tale by Robert Sund, a guest choreographer for the Santa Barbara company. Recorded music by Tchaikovsky will accompany the 22 professional members of the company, along with 20 advanced local area ballet students.
Yukari Thiesen, the VPAC's artistic director -- and one of the Fresno area's most tireless advocates for arts education -- has been teaching an introduction to ballet and the "Beauty and the Beast" show to students at Westside Elementary School in Five Points, Hazel M. Bailey Primary School in Firebaugh and at Fresno's Valley Arts & Science Academy and Jackson Elementary School.
The four school sites were selected as part of an artist-in-residency grant from the Fresno County Office of Education.
One topic Thiesen has been addressing in her visits to classes at the four schools is hard for some kids to wrap their heads around: They won't be seeing Disney's version of "Beauty and the Beast."
"I keep telling them not to wait for the teacups," Thiesen says, "and they keep saying, 'Why?' "
Instead of servants turned into enchanted objects, this production is more nature oriented, with insects and animals personified through contemporary ballet. There's still the same basic plot of Belle being imprisoned by the prince-turned-beast, but there are many changes, such as a squad of fairies (played by local dancers) working their magic.
For many students, the acknowledgment that there can be different versions of a familiar story can be an important lesson, Thiesen says. The very nature of art rests on the foundation of interpretation.
(It also doesn't hurt to remind kids once in a while that the Disney juggernaut isn't the only game in town.)
As she introduces students to ballet, Thiesen is touched that for so many of them, this is the first time they've been exposed to the art form.
And that's the real power of the VPAC's educational program. You never know what will stick with a child. Among the scores of students attending on Friday, there could be a professional ballet dancer-in-the raw.
But arts education is more than just the possibility of finding a future star. It's about connecting young people with a fundamental core of human behavior.
The columnist can be reached at email@example.com
, (559) 441-6373 or @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.