Dances of diverse origins

5th April 1996 at 01:00
DANCE FOR EVERYONE Video directed by Naomi Benari, Pounds 18.80 from 6 Milverton Road, London NW6, Tel: 0181 451 200.

The stimulation which all children gain from the visit of a live dance company to school cannot be replaced by a video. However, this recording of four dance interpretations of popular children's stores provides teachers with an exciting package to inspire them to develop dance and drama with children in school.

The stories are well chosen to cover a variety of themes: Anansi the Spiderman and the Weather King; Hansel and Gretel; The Little Mermaid and The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The concept of using stories as a stimulus for dance is particularly useful for pupils with special educational needs, as it opens up possibilities for a range of sensory experiences.

Each story is developed in a similar way. First, the text is told through sign language by Issy Schlisselman with highly effective facial expression and use of gesture. Possible links between sign language and movement are made clear and, indeed, "sign dance" could become a new artform for the future. Then the story is told through dance, performed by the five members of the company in a school setting, accompanied by a simple spoken text. The taped music is chosen to suit each story and ranges from original West Indian to Paul Dukas's "The Sorcerers' Apprentice". The company uses simple yet highly effective costumes and set designs and clear characterisation.

Story-telling through a variety of modes of representation can develop pupils' understanding of narrative and reinforce abstract concepts. This can be particularly beneficial for pupils with learning difficulties. Unfortunately, the practical involvement of children in the videoed performances is underdeveloped.

Teachers' notes accompanying the video explain how each of the programmes of study for dance are met. Key stages 1 and 2 are addressed in turn and each story is analysed for the specific qualities of movement it explores. These notes are very useful, particularly if teachers are inexperienced in dance, as they contain many suggestions for activities. As a stimulus to teach dance to a broad range of children with special educational needs, this video is both useful and thought provoking.

Jane Tarr is a senior lecturer in education at the University of the West of England, Bristol

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