Annual Summer Triple Arts Intensive Completes Its Run
Walking into the downstairs lobby at National Dance Institute, into a silent gallery filled with Rauschenbergs and Al Hirschfeld caricatures, along with a collection of paintings, sketches, and other artworks celebrating dance, it's all deceptively quiet. There's no indication that in the next rooms, things are exploding with noise and chaotic fun. But when you pass through the side doorway, there are young teens tying shoes and downing water in the corridor, and in what was a former school gymnasium, more are filling a crowded relatively new dance floor.
Thirteen students, of various ages, heights, and backgrounds, are racing around the floor while their director, Charlotte d'Amboise - yes, she's due to be on stage in PIPPIN later in the day - is moving around and expending nearly as much energy as they are. They're working on their own arrangement of ANNIE'S "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile," this version featuring a fairly competent kick line and some floor work. They've previously been assisted in assembling the routine by choreographer Christopher d'Amboise.
It's mid-August in New York, and if it's hot outside on 147th Street, it's hotter in here, where the action is. This is the summer Triple Arts theatre intensive for teens, a two-week immersion program developed and run by Tony nominees (and triple-threats themselves), Terrence Mann and Charlotte d'Amboise. Students from twelve to eighteen, of varying degrees of prior experience, are learning theatre, dance, and vocal skills, and today they're rehearsing for the concluding production that will be the next day.
Mann and the d'Amboises are both working with the students that day, as is Broadway veteran and Tony nominee Liz Larsen. Mann, the d'Amboises, and Larsen are far from the only adults working with the thirty students in the program; there are professionals who'd be happy to have the collection of trainers who are inspiring this summer class.
Choreographer d'Amboise and Larsen explain that working with the children in the program can be particularly rewarding for everyone. D'Amboise explains, "I'm interested in reinventing the ways in which a scene can be interpreted. I want the kids to see what dance can do outside its traditional form to bring in the story." The dancers are certainly doing that with ANNIE, but they're also doing it with some of the music from MATILDA.
Larsen indicates, "The kids love doing Christopher's stuff - it's based in touch and feeling, not just step-kick. We've got kids dancing who have never danced before."
And eleven are experiencing that at the moment, with one of the songs from MATILDA, using a routine that they've developed with d'Amboise. They're working on "When I Grow Up," younger singers sitting cross-legged on the floor, older soloists singing out their lines cheerily.
Charlotte d'Amboise, directing them, is once again pouring in as much energy as is the cast. "This is a happy song," she explains to them. The rest of the crowd fills in on the dance floor as the singers come to the chorus. And indeed, what's sad about being able to watch cartoons all day "until my eyes go square"? Nothing, plainly.
"We teach them to be specific," Mann says, "have no fear, and know that there are no wrong choices. If you can do that, you can handle yourself in anything you do."
According to Mann, about a third of the students who come each year are returning from previous years' programs. That's the students' own choice - stage mothering is discouraged. However, parents do have a great deal to say about the program, usually about its impact on their children. Larsen says, "Just this morning I got a letter from a parent - we had his boy last year and he was very shy. They went on and on about how the program changed his entire life. You don't realize the effect you have when you teach art and expression." She adds that of those students who don't return, many are away with their families for the summer or they've moved. But all of the students aren't New York-based. "We've got kids from Annapolis, Maryland, and from Hershey, Pennsylvania. They stay with relatives. One comes in daily from Connecticut." Still others come in from Florida for the program. Not only are the students from various parts of the country, but they cut across class lines. Scholarships are available to help those whose families can't afford the entire program fee.