Jury Coordination and Notes

Archive for October, 2019

Volta – A Feast for the Senses

Friday, October 25th, 2019

Volta is a touring circus show by the Cirque du Soleil. Energetic, urban and contemporary, VOLTA is a captivating voyage of discovery that showcases never-before-seen under the Big Top acrobatics in a visually striking world. Driven by a stirring melodic score and inspired in part by the adventurous spirit that fuels the culture of street sports, VOLTA is a story of transformation. It is about being true to oneself, fulfilling one’s true potential, and recognizing one’s own power to make it possible. Ultimate freedom comes with self-acceptance, and with the liberation of the judgement of others.  VOLTA is playing now in Atlanta through January 5, 2020.

VOLTA: Cirque du Soleil
By Ivey H, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 13

This show is a feast for the senses! All I can say is WOW! It is such a beautiful and captivating night under the Big Top Tent.  This is the 20th Cirque du Soleil show to visit Atlanta and the 15th Big Top to be raised in Atlanta. 

The show is comprised of very talented acrobats that swing, jump, dance, bike ride, skip rope, roller skate, balance and so much more. There is almost no dialogue, which I did not mind at all.  The host of the show Mr. WOW is very amusing. There are some very humorous parts. Even a 3-year- old behind me was engaged and laughed at the comedian, which was so adorable.

I love how the talent engages the audience. I enjoyed the theme of the show and loved the storytelling with its beautiful displays of different backgrounds to enhance the story. The colors are radiant and vibrant. The costumes are absolutely inspiring and very different. They engulf so many different cultures into very urban costumes. They blend looks from Native Americans with African culture and hip hop, all into one.  The costume designer, Zaldy Goco, designed the costumes for Michael Jackson’s “This is It” tour, Lady Gaga’s “Monster Ball Tour” and more. He has received four Emmy nominations and you can see why. His work is phenomenal.

My favorite part of the performance is the couple dancing and the unicycle rider, Philippe Be’langer, with dancer. They are all highly skilled acrobats. I had anxiety watching them display their incredible body strength and balance. Another favorite part is “Hair Suspension,” with the very Zen Lady Vanessa Ferreira Calado hoisted up in the air by her hair. 

The music and singing are a beautiful addition and the lady violist is captivating to listen to. The grand finale is the BMX street bikes. This is a nice ending and these extreme cyclists are impressive! I don’t know how they do it.

The message of this show is about embracing yourself, accept yourself, and love your true liberation and freedom.

I recommend this show is for ages 3 to 18, plus adults and give it 5 out of 5 stars. The show is playing now through January 5, 2020 at Atlantic Station. It is best to park under Dillards and walk to the Big Top Tent. There are plenty of good snacks and drinks available for purchase.  There is a 25 minutes intermission between first and second act. Be sure to check it out, you’ll be glad you did.

If the Dancer Dances * An Exquisitely Shot Film Honoring Merce Cunningham’s Choreography

Friday, October 25th, 2019

If The Dancer Dances invites viewers into the intimate world of the dance studio. Stephen Petronio, one of today’s leading dance-makers, is determined to help his dancers breathe new life into RainForest (1968), an iconic work by the legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham. With help from three members of the former Cunningham company, the film tracks Petronio’s dancers as they strive to re-stage this great work, revealing what it takes to keep a dance – and a legacy – alive. Timed to coincide with Cunningham’s centennial, If The Dancer Dances  is the first documentary on the subject of Cunningham’s work since his passing in 2009.

Merce Cunningham was an American dancer and choreographer who stood at the forefront of American modern dance for more than 60 years. As a choreographer, teacher, and leader of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Cunningham had a profound influence on modern dance and earned some of the highest honors bestowed in the arts, including the National Medal of Arts and the MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellowship. Cunningham is also notable for his frequent collaborations with artists of other disciplines, including the musicians Radiohead and John Cage (also his life partner), as well as visual artists Andy Warhol, who did the décor for  RainForest, the dance featured in If the Dancer Dances, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

If the Dancer Dances
By Cynthia P., KIDS FIRST! Reviewer

If The Dancer Dances is an exquisitely shot film that brings the audience into the studio to watch the company members get interviewed and listen to their opinions and fears as we observe them at work. We observe the technically brilliant Petronio Company goof off, get engaged (which seems a bit staged), rehearse, giggle and crawl – nothing too interesting or special.

The film If The Dancer Dances, directed by Maia Wechsler, was created to document the rehearsal, choreographic reconstruction and performance of the dance RainForest with Petronio’s 30-year-old, New York-based contemporary dance company.

My favorite part which lifted me up from the predictability of the 86 minute film is when dancer / choreographer / company director Stephen Petronio reveals that his “dance parents,” Trisha Brown and Merce Cunningham, are no longer able to dance. Ms. Brown is ill and Merce has passed away. Stephen feels compelled to continue their work and decided to re-stage RainForest. He felt a need to “continue even more” and restage the legendary ballet RainForest on his own company with décor by Andy Warhol, costumes by Jasper Johns, music by David Tudor and, of course, the amazing choreography of Merce Cunningham – a quintessential collaboration by four of the greatest modern artists of their day. As most dancers who have studied modern art or dance, the sight of Warholian silver pillows floating on stage is a vivid image that one cannot shake. Despite the very grainy archival film of this dance, this work remains legendary.

Meg Harper, the Cunningham dancer who performed in the original work, discusses the challenges of setting the piece, her ups and downs with it, and the feelings that she experienced on stage. None of her issues are high stakes, surprising or new. In fact, they are blasé challenges that seem so weak compared to the power of just enjoying the ballet. Every single moment spent not watching the dancers dance seems like filler. It is sweet to hear dancers talk, but it feels as if the filmmakers tried to make it more interesting when actually, they don’t. The dancing in the studio is what elevates this film. I wanted to see exquisite movement shot, edited and presented well. Of course, we want to get to know the dancers, as it  makes the film more textured, but these efforts seem forced and makes so much of the film fall flat.

When former Cunningham dancers discuss Merce and his work, it starts to get a bit more interesting. When we watch Merce kindly teach from his wheelchair and view a dancer break down, thinking of the power he has over her, we get a glimpse of his intensity. I personally remember his feeble hands reaching out to shake mine and his warm lovely smile that was so engaging.

There are no stakes in this film that have excitement for me. Yes, we watch the amazing dancers learn phrases, laugh in rehearsal, make the movement their own and then perform the work at the Joyce Theatre. It doesn’t work for me and is disappointing. The performance just doesn’t have any urgency or excitement.

The archival footage of RainForest sizzled for me. This celebrated work that shaped dance for an eternity costumed the dancers in ripped leotards with holes. This motif is part of fashion today – 40 years later! Those moments just cannot be re-done. Merce asked his company to halt after his death in 2009 for this very reason.

As much as it is nice to see works re-imagined, this film about the process didn’t give me anything new. I’m afraid that I feel some works of art just need to stay asleep. Sweet dreams RainForest, we love you. However, for newcomers to the world of modern dance, dancers and audience members alike, this may well awaken a sense of history and place that they were unaware of previously. So, with that in mind, I can recommend this to teens ages 15 to 18 as well as adults and give it 3.5 stars out of 5. It is available on VOD Nov 12.

“The dance studio is a private and mysterious place. If The Dancer Dances grants us rare access, bringing us into the studio to watch the staging of a Merce Cunningham masterwork on the Stephen Petronio Company. It’s the tracking of this intimate process, a dance being passed one body to another, that makes this film a great gift.”  Mikhail Baryshnikov on If The Dancer Dances

Molly of Denali * Delightful and Authentic Portrayal of Three Generations of Native Americans

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

Molly of Denali is an American-Canadian animated television series created and produced by Atomic Cartoons and WGBH Kids for PBS Kids and CBC Television. It premiered on July 15, 2019. The series is the first ever nationally distributed children’s show to feature an Alaska Native as the main character and protagonist. Thirty-eight half-hours have been ordered. Between the two 11-minute story segments, there is a special live-action segment filmed in Alaska. The series follows 10-year-old Molly, an Alaska Native girl from the fictional village of Qyah, and her family, friends Tooey and Trini, her dog Suki, and other residents. Her family runs the Denali Trading Post. It was created by Dorothea Gillim and Kathy Waugh and stars Sovereign Bill. The Molly of Denali theme song is sung by Phillip Blanchett and Karina Moeller. KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror, Terry S. comments, “This animated show is truly delightful and quite authentic in portraying three generations –  grand parents, parents and children. The images are true to form and culture.” See her full review below.

Molly of Denali – Grandpa’s Drum and Have Canoe Will Paddles (TV series)
By Terry S., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

Molly of Denali is an animated TV series featuring a strong Native American 10-year-old girl from Alaska. The show I watched has two 11-minute episodes: Grandpa’s Drum and Have Canoe will Paddle. The focus is on problem solving, while incorporating literacy and technology skills.
Alaskan Native values are modeled including respect, sharing, team work and honoring elders, family and cultural awareness.

The program highlights a Native American community in Alaska. The lead character Molly is a strong, energetic young girl, full of life and an inquiring mind. In Grandpa’s Drum, she and Tuli find an old photograph of her grandpa when he was young together with a young girl. They discover he doesn’t like to sing anymore, because he no longer has his drum. They go on a quest to find the girl and his drum by using their research skills. In Have Canoe Will Paddle, Molly, Tuli and Trini get resourceful once again with their literacy skills to learn how to paddle a canoe. With their friendly social skills, they find an appropriate coach to teach them, so they can enter a race.

Native Alaskan children will proudly see themselves and their way of life and a broader audience will be introduced to a new culture. They will experience adventures with the lead characters and see their contemporaries problem solving, learning and having fun. In Grandpa’s Drum, they will see Molly and Trini singing and their Grandpa remembering songs with his drum and teaching them. In Have Canoe Will Paddle, they will see the steps Molly and friends make to learn how to canoe and master the race. They will learn to know that we are more alike than different. Viewers may be motivated to explore their own cultural backgrounds as a result.

This is a very engaging show with fun characters that are eager to learn. Each episode flows well, incorporating literacy and technology skills that young children can relate to. It encourages them to go out and learn the skills they need to problem solve and have fun while doing so.

Young children, parents, teachers and caregivers alike will learn about the Native Alaskan culture and learn new Native vocabulary, as well as the difference between now and then. In Grandpa’s Drum, we learn that when he was a young boy, he had to go to boarding school and was not allowed to celebrate his culture at school. Today, we find out that this does not happen. Children are at home going to school and can celebrate their culture. This animated show is truly delightful and quite authentic in portraying three generations –  grand parents, parents and children. The images are true to form and culture.

In addition to the two animated shorts in each episode, there is a live action piece. In this episode, Molly answers questions about life in Alaska. We see children who live there at the river comparing old photographs of a similar place and see what it looks like today. They learn a traditional song from an elder. One girl says, “When I am dancing with ancestors, I connect with the past.”

Molly of Denali has all the benefits of inviting the viewer to question, probe and problem solve as described above, while introducing the viewer to a new culture and environment. It encourages one to look into situations such as in Grandpa’s Drum when it helps him to reconnect with his youth, re-learning the songs he loved with his new found drum, and then teaching and passing them on to the younger generation. Viewers will be motivated and encouraged to explore their own cultural backgrounds. Similarly in Have Canoe Will Paddle where it shows how one can learn a new sport, if they so desire. The role modeling of determination is inspiring.  

The moral of the series is: if there is a will, there is a way as it models problem solving to get the results you want, gaining new skills and having fun while doing it! Molly and her friends are terrific, inspiring role models for young children to get excited about learning!

I give this series 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 4 through 8. This airs on PBS Kids and CBC Television now, so look for it. Reviewed by Terry S., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror.

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