A charming Continental vibe pervades Paper Dreams, the latest offering at Imagination Stage in its series (called “My First Imagination Stage”) that is specifically designed for very young audiences.
The European feel shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Paper Dreams was originally conceived and written by Barcelona’s Mons Dansa Dance Theatre Company. That nearly twenty year-old troupe uses dance to engage the imaginations of young children.
Most readers will be aware that our area has a vibrant theatre scene geared toward the young. What has surprised me, since becoming a parent nearly five years ago, is how much there is that is devised for the very youngest of theatre-goers.
We all know how, to be able to ride certain attractions at various parks, you are stood up against a wall, and, if you’re not tall enough to reach the magic mark, you can’t ride. It can be quite disappointing when a kid doesn’t meet the mark.
Similarly, parents can be frustrated when they find something that sounds perfect only to learn that the theatre suggests an age range into which their kids don’t fall.
No barriers of that sort exist at these productions! In fact, lap ticket discounts to Paper Dreams are available for the under-ones.
Imagination Stage says that Paper Dreams is its first dance-oriented piece. It is language free, unlike other offerings in the series, such as their oft-revived Blue.
(By contrast, the work at my family’s other favorite local company doing theatre for this cohort, Arts on the Horizon, is generally wordless.)
A two-character show, Paper Dreams is less a traditional narrative and more a series of related vignettes. As it begins, we watch the two performers’ thwarted attempts to dress themselves. A pair of purple sneakers and a rainbow tutu are comically shared. These costume pieces, like other props, appear and are exchanged almost magically.
Projections are used cleverly. A stream of letters appears on an upstage screen and on books which the performers hold. Several books are propped open in a row and then knocked over domino fashion, to the great delight of the audience.
I was struck by how quiet and attentive that (very) young audience was. As you can imagine, that’s not always the case.
The kids sit around in a semi-circle at the edge of the acting space, which is defined by a drop on the floor, while parents are on benches behind them. And, while house management attempted to keep kids from encroaching too far into the performance area, the actors seemed to take a different tack. When a crawler headed toward her on Sunday morning, Anna Lynch smiled and held out her arms invitingly.
Lynch, who has a dancer’s tall, slim build, has an actor’s résumé, and is partnered here with Sara Herrera, who comes to the show from the world of dance.
Both are bright, engaging, and playful. A sequence during which they walk as if models at a fashion show seemed to be particularly fun for them, as well as for the audience.
As is often the case in shows for children of this age, there are intermittent interactive moments.
Lynch, as the audience settled, had handed out paper to each child, which they will need toward the end of the show. When my daughter employed hers as directed, she returned to me and announced with delight, “I put my paper in the water to make a fish!” (The “water” to which she referred was long, narrow, and made of paper.)
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Both my kids love to dress up, and so a highlight for them was when bits of paper became dresses or hats. The clever sound design (there is no program, so I can’t credit a designer) animated the paper in delightful ways. “A cow was inside the bell,” my daughter said with awe at one point.
Many lovely images occur through the creative use of minimal, malleable props, most made of paper, as the team creates an apple tree, a line of dancers, birds, a house with lit windows, a garden, that stream. Another highlight for the kids was when one of the performers got a basket stuck on her rear-end — the basket, after it was eventually removed from her posterior, then became a drum.
Although billed as a dance performance, the music — by turns evoking a circus, a honky tonk, a jazz club — as well as the performance style put me in mind of the mime presentations I enjoyed as a young adult, back when that art form seemed to be more in fashion. (I was privileged enough then to see live some of its golden age performers, such as Marcel Marceau and Jewel Walker.)
After the curtain call, the kids were invited onto the drop for a short playtime. Our side of the audience made their crumbled paper into balls and took turns tossing them into three baskets.
The day we saw the show, the audience was also invited down the hall for a free sample of the classes that Imagination Stage offers for this age group.
The piece ends with a lovely coup de théâtre: our cast heads upstage toward the previously-employed screen, disappears behind it, and then reappears on it via projection, as if walking into the distance. “I see them!,” my daughter cooed, transported by the magic of the device.
At the risk of generalizing from my own particular experience, there are few things quite as enchanting for a child as a rainbow, and a rainbow was the final image in this delightful experience for theatre-goers five and under — and for their parents and friends, who love watching them being introduced to theatre and becoming enchanted by it.
Paper Dreams conceived and written by the Mons Dansa Dance Theatre Company of Barcelona. Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer. Featuring Anna Lynch and Sara Herrera. Produced by Imagination Stage in the My First Imagination Stage series. Reviewed by Christopher Henley.