News Column

Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas, Lana Sweeten-Shults column

May 16, 2014

By Lana Sweeten-Shults, Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas

May 16--They traveled in packs to attend the Wichita Falls Ballet Theatre's production of "Peter and the Wolf."

About 1,600 of them -- students from 18 elementary schools -- arrived at Memorial Auditorium Thursday afternoon for "Afternoon With the Arts."

Annually, the nonprofit ballet company presents two performances for the community -- "The Nutcracker" in the fall/winter and "Afternoon With the Arts" in the spring. The latter is a free performance for schoolchildren that this year was funded by the Priddy Foundation.

What was different about the production this year is that the ballet company collaborated with another youth arts performance group, the Wichita Falls Youth Symphony Orchestra, and also extended the educational portion of the production by including a representative from the Yellowstone Wolf Project.

"We thought since the performance was for children, we would ask the youth symphony," said SueAnn Altman, president of the Wichita Falls Ballet Theatre, who added that Val Liberatore, WFBT co-artistic director with his wife Mishic, was involved in arts education in his previous work with the Cincinnati Ballet. "It was a win-win, because the musicians had never performed for ballet dancers, and the ballet never worked with a live orchestra."

Students watched, enraptured, as the story of Peter (Jenna Holcomb), a plucky pioneer boy who lives in a forest clearing with his grandfather (Paul Loskot), unfolded on the stage. Peter bravely wanders out into the clearing, where he's joined by a duck (Caitlin Woods), little bird (Brooke Altman) and his pet cat (Halee Hagan).

Granddad scolds Peter for being outside in the meadow alone. And he's right, of course, because soon afterward, a big, gray wolf does come out of the forest and gobbles up the duck.

Everything works out in the end, though, as Peter catches the wolf, and it seems the duck is OK, since the narrator conveys, "If you listen very carefully, you'd hear the duck quacking inside the wolf's belly, because the wolf, in his hurry, had swallowed her alive."

After the performance, Kira Quimby of the Yellowstone Wolf Project told attendees about how wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995-96 after the last wolves were killed there in 1926. Her visit was made possible by the Perkins-Prothro Foundation.

"In Yellowstone now, we have 85 wolves, and they live in 11 different packs ... We have some packs as big as 20 wolves," said Quimby, who tracks the park wolves, watches what they're eating (elk about 85 percent of the time) and watches their behavior.

She wanted to debunk myths surrounding wolves, as represented in fairy tales such as "Little Red Riding Hood," "The Three Little Pigs" and "Frozen," in which wolves are represented as the bad guys.

"Wolves are almost all the time very afraid of people," she said. And unlike their reputation in fairy tales, they are not constantly eating and aren't the menaces they are portrayed to be.

"Most of the time, wolves live in big family groups ... and they are usually very caring of each other ... the whole pack takes care of the pups."

Liberatore, gave students a quiz after the performance.

"You're going to learn a little bit today," he told the students. " ... How many of you remember what instrument the bird danced to?"

"The flute!" students rang out.

Emma Duhan, who played the wolf, said the ballet company started working on "Peter and the Wolf" in February.

"It was hard, but it was worth it," she said of all the work that went into the production.

She added of the performance, "We hope to draw them (the students) in so they experience everything we experience."

She wanted the students to be as immersed in the tale as the dancers were.

Kathy Simons, a teacher from John Tower Elementary School in Burkburnett, attended "Afternoon With the Arts" with about 65 fourth-graders.

She said it was a great educational opportunity for the students.

"It's something different for them -- they don't get to see a lot of ballet," she said.

Added Melanie Koulovatos, a fourth-grade social studies teacher at Hardin Elementary School in Burkburnett, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."


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Source: Wichita Falls Times Record News (TX)

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