On the Ground

Choose Your Own Adventure

Harbourfront’s Junior Festival By Elise Tigges
  • The Jury / Photo by Siren Louvdal
Children are curious, explorative and creative beings. They think outside the box, ask questions and are constantly transforming as they absorb the world around them. At this early point in their lives, they are beginning to discover who they are and where they fit in. Movement, music and art are catalysts for this important step in learning and self-expression, both in educational and recreational ways. They are platforms for children and adults alike to learn and make new discoveries about themselves and the world that surrounds them.
Through theatre, dance and puppetry, the Junior festival brought various contemporary artistic platforms together from different corners of the globe to present performances that will encourage children to ask the questions that fill their minds, discover new ones and challenge their ideas. During the week-long festival at Toronto’s Harbourfront, an exciting schedule brought unique performances from around the world. Through dance, music, theatre and puppetry, children were exposed to stories and cultures, from right here at home to as far away as Australia and Norway.
Dance can tell a story, explore a theme or idea or be a conduit through which to translate our feelings. Dance can be as complex as you want or simply about a colour of the rainbow. In an attempt to be sophisticated, choreographers often leave audiences perplexed about what they’ve just seen, especially when that audience is made up of children. For something that can be so simple, dance is often difficult to interpret, making it a bore for young people when they don’t understand what’s happening. 
The Jury, choreographed by Hege Haagenrud, is a Norwegian production in which children are given the opportunity to dictate what happens. The results at Junior were captivating. The children described images of tales they hoped to tell through movement, eventually getting so creative they even lost the initial ideas they were hoping to convey. Through a series of trial and error, they took different paths and explored various options to get to a final product that told both beautiful and exciting tales. They discovered how their ideas would translate to the dancers’ limbs and quickly caught on to how different shapes and qualities could be initiated from their simple instructions. Given a platform to be playful and a different means with which to tell a story, the children had the opportunity to observe that dance can, in fact, tell a story that is interesting to them and doesn’t have to be so abstract that they don’t understand its concept. This performance is unique and inspiring to witness because it’s directed towards children in such a way that it allows them creative and artistic freedom.
Artists are challenged when they attempt to create work that speaks to the minds of children and also engages the adults that accompany them. With original works as well as retellings of classic tales, Junior provided a variety of performances to entertain an audience of any age. Suites curieuses by Hélène Blackburn is a uniquely creative interpretation of the classic story “Little Red Riding Hood.” Puppetry and entertaining expressions brought out giggles from the audience while the compelling movement kept all engaged. I couldn’t help but be in awe of the movement, derived from sign language, that helped retell this classic childhood story.  
Aside from the featured performances, there were music, workshops and interactive activities across the Harbourfront Centre for families and children to further explore. Geared towards the growing minds of children, Junior brought expressive art and important topics to the forefront of a lively and friendly festival.
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