Jacatoumba — Contemporary Dance Theatre for Children

Last Sunday, I took my eight-year old daughter for see the new creation by Lia Haraki at Rialto Theatre in Limassol. Having followed Haraki’s work for years, I was curious to see how her approach to dance making would translate to a performance geared at children. Utilising her contemporary compositional methodologies, Haraki along with the highly skilled performers, Arianna Marcoulides, Rania Glymitsa, and Panayiotis Tofi, has successfully created a work that appeals to children’s sensibilities of imagination, free expression, and humour whilst simultaneously introducing them to the wonderful opportunities contemporary art can offer. Haraki’s performance addresses children in a respectful manner without patronising them with an over-simplified performance or caricatured execution.

The simple story of the dance play presents a shy girl on a journey of self-discovery of physical and aural expression. The performance starts with a birthday party in which Yakinthi, the main character expertly played by Marcoulides, receives a microphone that she appears too shy to use. The three characters jump around the furniture including sections of contact improvisation which reflects the physical explorations children perform so naturally. Rania Glymitsa’s character, an exaggerated performance of an outgoing personality, is the necessary antidote to Marcoulides’ carefully crafted awkwardness and an example of freedom of children’s imagination and expressivity. With musical references to well-known works of music, Glymitsa performs a dance that explores stereotypical performances in a humorous way.

As Yakanthi enters a dream, the audience is transported into a visually stunning alter-reality featuring two dancers in oversized monochrome unitards adorned with various geometric shapes which contrast the colourful scenery of boxes. Their dance duet carries Haraki’s signature dance style therefore showing the choreographer’s skill in adapting her artistic ideology for a younger audience. The most thrilling section follows in which Glymitsa playing a scientist who feeds Yakanthi various potions causing her to use her microphone. With use of technology, Christos Hadjicristou a long-time collaborator of Haraki, creates sounds that appear to stream out of Marcoulides’ mouth. Although, Haraki was careful to emphasise physical expression she was able to acknowledge the role of technology and mediate live performance to fit the demands of the twenty first century audience.

By avoiding use of text, the performance appeals to children (and adults) of all languages. It also communicates didactic messages in a subtle manner rather than barking it at the audience. Perhaps the section that has the clearest message is the block building part in which Tofi appears as the policing character attempting to force Yakanthi to place blocks in a ascending order according to colour. His voice appears authoritative and instructional, yet Yakanthi continues to place blocks in her own manner creating a sculptural design that he eventually accepts. The message is clear: everyone creates in their own way.

Haraki stimulates the children, and hopefully their parents, to view the world in a way that encourages children to explore and discover through play, which involves artistic experimentation. She posits that there is no right or wrong way to express oneself which is a key message to transfer to children. Although, as a dancer, I would have liked to see even more dance sections to create an awareness of children, as well as general audience, of this often under-appreciated art form, I greatly respect the ideas presented regarding contemporary art. The creative team has approached this performance with utmost professionalism which so often lacks in children’s performances. The attention to the compositional methods, performance, and narrative development demonstrated artistic integrity which in turn demanded children’s attention who watched it with full commitment.

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