From Canvas to Stage: ACB Presents The Impressionists

by Karin K. Jensen - Alameda Sun

April 2, 2009 - Who has not been drawn by the allure of the Impressionists? In the late 19th century, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec created immortal works of art which even today permeate our culture. Monet became the father of Impressionism with his vibrant landscape paintings, while Degas romanticized the world of Paris Opera Ballet. Renoir captured people at leisure with saturated color and vibrant light, while Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in the gaudy, theatrical nightlife of fin-de-siecle Paris.

With the goal of bringing the paintings of these artists to life, Alameda Civic Ballet (ACB) will present excerpts of its spring production of The Impressionists to eleven of Alameda's elementary schools on Friday, April 3rd at Kofman Auditorium. The full performance will be presented to the public on Saturday, April 4th.

Both programs will include ACB's Degas Dancers, a ballet previously performed at San Francisco's Legion of Honor Museum. Students of Alameda Ballet Academy (ABA) will bring Monet's Garden to life, while Alameda Vintage Dancers will showcase social dancing as depicted by Renoir in Vive La Danse. Finally, Le Cancan will feature the cabaret dancing of the Moulin Rouge Nightclub made famous by Toulouse-Lautrec.

ACB is coordinating with Art Docents from the eleven elementary schools to provide lessons that focus on Impressionism prior to the performance. The students will then have the opportunity to see the art  interpreted as dance with historically appropriate music and costuming. In Monet's Garden, dancers in floral-inspired attire will look like water lilies, wisteria, irises and more come to life, and the authentically-attired ballerinas in Degas' Dancers will appear as if they have leapt from canvas to stage.

Members of the Art Docent program are excited about this multi-faceted experience for their students. Jenna Freck, Art Docent for Edison Elementary, says, "When I teach  kids about the Impressionists, I appeal to as many of their senses as possible. I play the music of the period, such as Debussy, Offenbach, and Bizet. And when I show Monet, I pass around a water lily and have them look at it both close up and from far away, so they get an idea of what it means to have an impression of it. For the paintings of the dancers, I have the children copy the poses".

"I believe that by viewing the paintings, listening to the music, and posing like dancers, they absorb a lot of information about this important period of art. I hope that when they see the ballet, they’ll remember the images and the music. It's always fun to see the excitement on their faces when they recognize an art work that they've seen before".

ACB Artistic Director, Abra Rudisill, remarks that, "It is crucially important to expose children to the performing arts – on stage and in a theater – in order to educate the 'whole child' as well as to inspire a future generation of artists and arts supporters. With school and art budgets being drastically cut, we want to contribute to our community by offering a quality dance performance free of charge to Alameda’s students. We are grateful to the individuals and corporations who have made this possible".

ACB acknowledges Perforce Software, Wind River, McGuire & Hester, the Falkner Family Foundation, the Alameda Education Foundation, SF Dancewear, Bank of Alameda, and Dr. David Johnson for underwriting a significant part of the production.

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