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BWW Reviews: NYTB's GOOSE! Brings Our Favorite Nursery Rhymes to the Ballet Stage

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I sat in the theater of Florence Gould Hall in between a young boy and a young girl, each with their families. They both took their crayons to their programs and began coloring in the black and white sketch of Mother Goose.

"Jack and Jill went up the hill..." recited the boy's father.

"Hey! I know that one!" The boy cried out, "You told it to me before!"

The lights dimmed and Diana Byer, Founder and Artistic Director of the New York Theatre Ballet, stepped onstage. She introduced one of the stagehands named Pepper. While Pepper marked points on the stage with gaff tape, Diana told the audience how dancers use these markers to make intricate, symmetrical patterns on the stage. Diana also described the four stage directions and how, in the olden days, stages used to be on a downward slant towards the audience (making the front of the stage "downstage"), while the house seats were flat. The children in the audience let out a shriek of laughter as Pepper pretended to fall down the imaginary slanted stage into the audience. After Pepper took his bow, Diana called out five young dancers from the Ballet School NY, the official training school of the New York Theatre Ballet. The adorable little ballerinas gracefully ran across the stage, using the spike tape marks to make formations such as a square, a diagonal, and a triangle. Next, Diana instructed all of the children of the audience to stand and learn the five ballet positions of the arms. Both onstage and in the house, the children marched in place and called out "First! First! First! First! Second! Second! Second! Second!" as they practiced their sequence of port de bras. After a few bows, the five dancers ran offstage and the real show began.

Keith Michael's "Goose!" works its way through many of the well-known nursery rhymes from "Mary, Mary Quite Contrary" to "There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe." The show incorporates classical ballet choreography with typical children's movements like skips and cartwheels. As was Diana Byer's introduction, "Goose!" itself is an interactive performance. In "A Was an Apple Pie (The ABCs)," the dancers partnered up to create the letters of the alphabet with their bodies. The audience would call out the letter during each acrobatic pose.

There were two other creative numbers that seemed to steal the show for the kids in the audience. The first was the trio of "Little Boy Blue," "Little Bo Peep," and "Little Miss Muffet." For each character, a pair of dancers worked together to make one "mini dancer." One dancer acted as the face and legs (with their arms) of the character, while the other dancers stood behind and put their arms through the costume.

Another fun piece was "Goosey Goosey Gander," where one of the ballerinas (Elena Zahlman) dressed in a bonnet, feathered wings, and a very full skirt from which three webbed feet poked out underneath. The children were stunned as she walked and hopped and danced on all three legs. "Is there another person under there?" The little girl next to me asked. "No," said the boy to my left, "I think she's using one of her arms!"

Even without any special effects, "Goose!" is a truly magical show. It was refreshing to watch a performance (and the audience's enthused reactions) focused on the genuine and simple magic of dance, acting, and costumes.

Overall, "Goose!" is a delightful little production. It brings the art of ballet to very young audiences for whom classical works like "The Nutcracker" or "Swan Lake" might be too long or confusing. "Goose!" puts well-known nursery rhymes on the stage so that children can recognize the stories and follow the dancing as it tells those stories.

[Photos by Richard Termine]


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