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Barnard Elementary Getting Ballet, Modern Dance Exposure Via 'The Firebird'

By Howard Ludwig | March 30, 2017 5:24am | Updated on March 31, 2017 6:04am
Barnard Elementary School
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DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig

BEVERLY — Rejean Johnson, Kalvin King and Idris Muhammad were skeptical when they heard they would be learning ballet at Barnard Elementary School.

The eighth-grade boys were wary of dancing in front of the girls and feared anything having to do with tights or ballet slippers. But seven weeks later, they are all looking forward to their upcoming performance of "The Firebird."

Some 140 students from the school at 10354 S. Charles St. will be involved in the production that offers both a classical and modern interpretation of Igor Stravinsky's Russian ballet. Students will perform at 2 and 6 p.m. April 6 at the Beverly grade school.

"We came around," said Rejean, who added that no tights or slippers are required for the upcoming performance.

The school used a $10,000 grant from Ingenuity's Creative Schools Fund to bring professional dance instructors to its auditorium. Pierre Lockett, executive director of Forward Momentum Chicago, is heading the performance along with J.C. Hopkins, who teaches modern dance.

Lockett spent 20 years working as a professional dancer, including stints at the Joffrey Ballet and at the Dance Theater of Harlem — where he also performed "The Firebird." Hopkins has been working with him since 2009.

"A lot of the boys originally were hesitant," Lockett said. "But now they are invested. They are engaged."

Meg Burns, Barnard's assistant principal, said the school received this same grant in 2015 and 2016. Previous funds were used to install murals on the north and south ends of the school.

But the school switched gears this year to incorporate performance art into its curriculum at the urging of evaluators of its International Baccalaureate program. The goal is to spread lessons from the performance throughout the school.

So students in Ken Benavides' art classes are working on costumes, sets and props for the show. Humanities teacher Caroline Minter said she is helping students create playbills as well as teaching lessons about ballets throughout the world.

The story of "The Firebird" is also one of empathy, which is then used to help teach social and emotional lessons to students at Barnard, said Cris Carole, a third-grade teacher.

"We really want to invest in something that would bring a new artistic experience for everyone," Burns said Tuesday. "Plus, we felt it really fit in with who we are as a school."

As for the performance, each show features two versions of "The Firebird," Lockett said. The first version will look and feel like a classic ballet. The second version will rely on hip-hop music and modern dance to tell the story.

The setting for the one-hour performance has also been changed to South Africa. And the cast of characters includes a prince, princesses, monsters, an evil sorcerer, a firebird and more.

Hopkins said he hoped to see students evolve over the 10-week program and already he's been blown away by their enthusiasm for the project. In fact, he said students even helped to decide the choreography, and the audience will be excited to hear many familiar songs.

"This is going to be an amazing show," he said.