Friday, April 12, 2013

All in the Family


Every year the New York Musical Theater Festival chooses several new and promising musical theater teams and their productions to showcase in their summer festival.  This year, brothers John, Patrick, and Walter Kennedy are presenting their adaptation of the classic, Swiss Family Robinson.  It is a great idea.  Swiss Family Robinson is a story about values, hard work, and survival.  It is a classic escapist tale who's time has come to be renewed amid the clatter of a sinking economy, climate change worries, and the do it yourself movement.  That the team is brothers, that they originally wrote it over 30 years ago, and that they bring quality writing, musical composition, and choreography to an overlooked classic bodes well for the success of this production.

What I love about it the most is that Walter Kennedy, the productions choreographer, was a faculty member of my undergraduate dance program and a mentor.  I am tickled for him.  I think that spending the summer in New York with your brothers putting on a big show sounds like just about the most fun in the world.  I have the kind of respect and appreciation for him typical of long-standing instruction and I know enough of his curriculum vitae to be impressed with his career prior to education (he was a principle dancer for Bela Lewitzky) but, like any good instructor, he still seems to me so very very human.

There is nothing more exciting than watching a mentor or instructor work their craft outside of the classroom.  We forget, sometimes, that these people were also once students, that they worked, sweated, and hoped just like we do.  We also forget that that in most cases they were successful.  We see them now, older, maybe larger or more tired, or we do not see them at all, being so focused on our own study, and forget that they were once luminous, center stage, beaming into the spotlight.  We see glimpses of them in their prime, a lovely foot, a beautiful and effortless triple pirouette, a show poster with them suspended midair, glorious in their flight. We forget that they could return to that place again, that they are not yet done, that we have become a part of their craft, but they have more to do outside the studio.

Sometimes we forget just how very much we can learn from our instructors and sometimes their best best lessons are unintentional.  Go take class.

To see the Swiss Family Robinson Project:

New York Musical Theater Festival:

Photograph from the original 1978 production by the "Brothers K", find it on their Facebook page.