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The Lion, the Witch et al
This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
January 7, 1998. All rights reserved.
Although everyone goes to `The Nutcracker’ ballet every
year, a lot of people — especially families — don’t have a
tradition of going to modern dance performances at all," says
Randy James, artistic director of the New Brunswick-based modern dance
company, Randy James Dance Works. "Before I started my company
four years ago, I had been looking for a full-length, evening work
— some kind of story, that would help build an audience for us,
that would make a tradition."
Although "The Nutcracker" was never considered by the young
modern dance company, that beloved tale did lead James to the
first full-length work, created for audiences of all ages, "The
Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," based on the C.S. Lewis
"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," performed by a company
of 15 dancers, has its world premiere at George Street Playhouse in
New Brunswick, on Saturday and Sunday, January 10 and 11, with
at 1 and 4 p.m. each day.
It was James’ seven-year-old goddaughter, Sarah Krauss, a veteran
performer of three seasons in "The Nutcracker" with the
Repertory Ballet, who suggested to James that he stage the dramatic
story of four children embroiled in magic — both good and evil
— in the land of Narnia.
"I don’t mind saying that my goddaughter is brilliant — and
this was a brilliant idea," says James. "I still remembered
the story from when I was a child. It has so many great characters,
and so many messages, about good against evil, redemption, and
Staging such a complex story was a challenge. "I had never
a story before," he says, "not one where dancers take and
keep a character throughout two acts." Simplicity was one obvious
key to making this first chronicle of Narnia comprehensible to
and their parents. "The most important things I remembered from
the book, the things that were most interesting, happened in Narnia.
So we have one scene at home in the beginning, and the rest of the
story is set in Narnia."
The characters that struck James as most appropriate for a modern
dance work are the woodland nymphs and the faun, Mr. Tumnus. James
recognized these characters as natural inhabitants of a modern dance
world founded by Isadora Duncan — whose dances often conjured
up visions of free-spirited sprites — and the legendary dancer
Nijinsky, known for his choreography of "Afternoon of a Faun."
"The character of the witch has so many possibilities," says
James. "When you first see her, you know she’s evil, but she’s
enticing. Like any sin — like Turkish delight — it’s
and intriguing at first. We have her first entrance on a sled drawn
by reindeer, accompanied by the wolf Maugrim. A bad person always
has a sidekick, and the wolf is our witch’s main sidekick."
The story’s climactic battle happens very quickly in the book, James
notes, but he thought a battle would be an interesting choreographic
challenge, particularly for all 15 dancers. His dance version appears
to be less weepy than the book. "Our Lion is dead for less than
three minutes," says James. "There’s a mourning dance by the
two young girls in which they express their pure love for him, and
this breathes life back into him. So the story has a celebratory
Everything is designed for family fun. "There’s a lot to see and
hear in dance — movement, music, sets, costumes — and I
you should make the audience work a bit, but some artists make their
audiences work too much. They live in an ivory tower," says James.
"My hope is that people will see modern dance in a different way
— we’re not always wearing unitards and crawling around like
There are no rules to modern dance, it’s so inclusive." Those
who tried to deconstruct modern dance, he says, succeeded only in
making it inaccessible to many. "Somehow it got away from real
life and real people."
James found himself auditioning all types of already composed music,
everything from Billy Holiday to bluegrass. Then it struck him that
this classic story, with modern choreography and modern costumes,
needed one classic artist at its center. "The project was so huge
and scary, I realized I should go totally for Mozart," says James.
He adapted scores featuring harp and flute for the nymphs and
choral work" for the battle. "I think people will find the
music comforting," says James, "even though they may not be
that familiar with the modern dance form."
These performances have been funded by a $15,000 grant from the
R. Dodge Foundation. "They believed in the project. I couldn’t
have done it without them," he says.
With his own company of eight augmented by seven guest artists for
the production, James will not be found onstage. "My dancing days
are not totally over, but they’re near the end," he says. "Of
course I still dance a lot — when I teach, when I create movement
— I’m just not performing in public. One lesson that teacher
Schoenberg taught me was that `If you’re in your work, you can’t see
Although not created exclusively for children, the work is designed
to include them. Adults may see more underlying resonances, but
will follow the story. "They’re the audience of the future. So
if we don’t cultivate children, there will be no modern dance
And has goddaughter Sarah consulted any further on the work?
No previews for young Sarah, says the artist. "I want her to see
the finished work with a virgin eye."
— Nicole Plett
Works, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick,
732-246-7717. $15 adults; $12 children, students, & seniors.
and Sunday, January 10 and 11, at 1 and 4 p.m.
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