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0000017c-60f7-de77-ad7e-f3f739cf0000Arts & More airs Fridays at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.Theme music: "Like A Beginner Again" by Dan Barry of Seas of Jupiter

'Wonder Tales' Hopes To Expose Kids To Other Cultures

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If I say the phrase “folk tales” you might think of "The Three Little Pigs" or "Hansel and Gretel." Those are great stories from Western cultures - countries like England and Germany - but there are so many more folk tales that you haven’t heard. 

On Tuesday, March 28th at 7 p.m. the Franke Center for the Arts in Marshall will present "Wonder Tales from Around the World." The play features six folk tales from different countries, each with a short dance.

Charles Burr - director of the Tibbits Opera House - wrote the play and serves as its narrator. He says this is about the fifth piece he’s done with the help of the Coldwater dance company Young Michigan Dances. Burr says the play combines storytelling and dance, but you don’t have to interpret the moves like in a ballet: 

“The Nutcracker is great but if you don’t know the story, why are all of those mice running around? It’s very confusing. And here it’s a two and a half minute dance that it’s so obvious exactly what it is. Oh, she’s so happy because she’s found the man she loves. Oh, he’s getting dressed to go frighten the kids. So it’s just a great way of storytelling so that they can go, wow I thought dance was just music. Well it can be so much more.”

Kids from Young Michigan Dances perform a folk tale from China
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK
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Kids from Young Michigan Dances perform a folk tale from China

Burr says the dances in the show are based on Western styles - like ballet and lyrical dance - but there are certain moves that are reminiscent of the culture the story comes from.

“So that in Africa there is one move that looks vaguely Swahili and then it’s an expression of the joy of the characters not necessarily an African dance,” says Burr.

The actors ages range from as young as 12 to performers in their 60s. Allison Waters is 20. She says she’s danced for most of her life, but acting was new for her.

“The lines was what freaked me out because I’ve never done anything like play, musical, anything. So I was like this is a lot of lines,” she says.

17-year-old Trevor Powell, on the other hand, has acted for many years but he’s only been dancing for three.

“I mean, I’ve had some recitals with my studio, but I’ve never done that storytelling theatre dance before. And so it was really fun to put that into a show with lines and it’s a really unique build of a show,” he says.

Jennifer Conley Darling co-directs the Franke Center’s children’s theatre program. She says the play is also part of the center’s goal to expose kids to different cultures.

Last year Albion’s school district dissolved and students in Albion started attending school in Marshall. Darling says that spurred the idea for her:

“Albion has a large population of African Americans, Battle Creek has a large population of Burmese, and then our partnership with Coldwater - which is technically Branch County - has a large population of Yemeni folks as well. So The Wonder Tales from Around the World is really an attempt to showcase different cultures from all of those areas of the globe.”

Burr says these stories may come from many different cultures, but they all have a similar message. They’re about people facing incredible challenges.

“There is something wondrous that happens in each of them but it’s not magic that resolves it. It’s resourcefulness, it’s being strong. I think those are all good things for kids to hear,” says Burr.

Rebecca Thiele was an environmental reporter and producer of Arts & More for WMUK. She worked at the station from 2011 to 2019.
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