Monday, May 16, 2005

Fairy Dust and the Reinvention of the Recital: A Conversation with Roxanne Claire

Image Hosted by
Photo by Roxanne Claire

Roxanne Claire is a teacher, video artist, and choreographer. She began her professional dance training with Valerie Roche at the Omaha Academy of Ballet. After graduating from law school, she went to Europe. She studied primarily in Paris, taking regular class with Jean Gaudin and Ruth Barnes, as well as workshops with Carolyn Carlson, Suzanne Linke, and Angelin Preljocaj. She was one of 15 selected for a three month dance/theatre workshop with Hideyuki Yano. While in Paris she also studied African dance and flamenco. After returning to the United States, she studied Aikido for two years, earning a brown belt. In 1996, she was one of 12 to take a two week workshop with Lutz Forster, member of the Pina Bausch Company. In that same year, she opened the Claire School of Dance.

At present, she is editing the video Mehndi and preparing a new video, tentatively titled Wind. She is also currently working on a full-length evening piece entitled Paris/GE. The piece chronicles monthly trips between Paris and Geneva in what amounted to journeys between inner and outer lives. Roxanne will present an excerpt from this piece, entitled Salt, June 2 and 3rd at Big Range Dance Festival, held at Barnevelder.

I had the privilege of meeting Roxanne Claire shortly she got off the bus from France. In addition, I had the joy of working with her on the Artists’ Board of DiverseWorks for three years. I have always found her to be one of the most intelligent dance voices on the scene.

DH: Can talk about your how your training at a Royal Academy of Dancing (RAD) studio has influenced the way you handle the recital process at your own school.

RC: I am not a RAD studio in the formal sense, while some of my syllabus has been influenced by my own RAD training. I do not teach an RAD class or present my children for examinations.However, my formative professional dance training was in an RAD studio and this has influenced my ideas about how a dance studio should be run. The recital is a prime example of this. We did not do recitals at the studio where I received my training. We did have something called "demonstrations" where students got up on stage with their class, in classroom attire, and showed what they had been working on during the year. Because during the year we worked on material for the exams, that is what we showed. But the traditional dance school recital with "numbers" and glitzy costumes was not something I did once I began professional training.

DH: What is a typical recital like for a child at Claire School of Dance? What is it like for the parent?

RC: I try to make the experience as low key and stress free as possible for everyone concerned. Children are to dress in whatever they normally wear to class. While there is a dress code for the Level children, the ones in ballet class, the only requirement for children in our Early Childhood program, the creative movement classes, is that they have bare feet. Dance skirts and tutus are allowed.

I have a "fairy crown party" early in the year, to have parents come and help make the fairy crowns of flowers and ribbons (ivy crowns for the boys). Sometimes parents of a class get together and purchase matching leotards.The parent and child arrive at our studios at Lambert Hall for the Performing Arts about a half hour before show time. The parent usually helps the child get on her or his crown before heading to the theater. (We are fortunate enough to have a small jewel of a theater right in our building at Lambert Hall.) We have "room mama or dad" stay with the children while waiting for their turn on stage. One of the teachers goes around each room and sprinkles the children with "fairy dust" as a good luck gesture before the show starts.

We start with the youngest children and work our way up. That way, those with the shortest attention spans are in and out first. The children get up on stage with their teacher and demonstrate three or four things they've worked on during the year. Then they are handed a rose as they leave the stage and go to their parents in the audience. They collect their certificate on their way out the door.

DH: When you opened your studio did you have an idea of how to handle the recital idea? Did your ideas evolve over time?

RC: I knew I wanted to have something low key and inexpensive. There is no additional recital fee at my school. The registration fee covers the demonstration expenses.It has evolved over time, in part, because the school is growing. We now hold two demonstrations because I want to keep things short and sweet. Many parents are holding toddlers in their laps. My rule is the show must be an hour or under. I also noticed that many parents left once their child had performed so now we have the older girls perform at the beginning of each show so that the parents can see what the children can learn if they stay with our program.

DH: I understand you don't go in for all those commercial- looking costumes. How do you use costumes?

RC: No one wears costumes except for the upper level girls. There, as in my Nutcracker, the rule is simplicity, like a long skirt over their classroom leotards. One dance we did, for a special event not a recital, had a scarecrow theme. I made red felt and raffia hats, collars and wrist bands and the girls wore their leotards and a pair of their own jeans. I think my background as a choreographer influences me here too. I design costumes that are for performances. Most traditional recital costumes would never be seen on stage except at recitals.Also, now that we've been in operation for 8 years now, our older girls are working on more advanced material, including choreography, so our older girls do in fact show a dance in addition to classroom work and that dance also has costumes.

Two years ago we did an Alvin Ailey homage with long white skirts. Last year we did a piece with Martha Graham-like lycra dance "bags," although it ended up a great deal more light hearted than what Martha would have done!

DH: Do you feel as if you have reinvented the recital. I think you have but I would like to hear your take on this?

RC: I feel that I have developed an approach which best fits the personality of my school and the children and parents who come to me. I did go to a school that did recitals when I first started taking dance classes and I remember how exciting it was, how much fun. I want the children to experience being on stage and I want the parents to see what their children have learned. At the same time, I want to spend classroom time focusing primarily on learning "to" dance, not "a" dance. I think my approach allows me the best of both worlds.

Image Hosted by Photo by Roxanne Claire

DH: What kind of response do you get from the children?
RC: The children are always very excited. We have very few melt-downs or crying children who refuse to go on stage - although we do have one every now and then.

DH: How about the parents? Do they ever long for spending large sums of money and sitting for hours at long recitals because that is what they expect?

RC: I learned early on to be upfront about the kind of recital we do when the parent first contacts us for information about classes. Many of my parents come to me because I do not do a traditional recital. Some parents do want that, however. They usually have had their own recital experiences they want to share with their children. And I certainly understand that so it's best that they know right away that we are not that kind of school.

DH: I understand you have a completely different take on The Nutcracker. Can you tell me about it?

RC: The school I went to for professional training, the Omaha Academy of Ballet, also was home to the Omaha Civic Ballet and every year we did a Nutcracker. So again I've been influenced by my own experiences. Now that my students are getting old enough to perform - in the beginning my students were all about four years old - I wanted to give them a more meaningful performing experience and the Nutcracker seemed like a good way to do that. However, being, well, me, I didn't want to do a traditional Nutcracker. Not to mention that everyone does the same Nutcracker. While I was doing research for a jazz camp I stumbled across Duke Ellington's arrangement of The Nutcracker and that was the beginning of our "New York Nutcracker."

Also, when I was a little girl, one of my favorite books was "Eloise" so I decided to combine the two ideas, throwing out the traditional story and using the story of a little girl who lives with her nanny in the Plaza Hotel in New York. The art work in the book - black, white, and hot pink - provided the color palette for the show as well. You know, like Truman Capote's Black and White Ball or the Ascot scene in "My Fair Lady." It adds that sharp, artist, New York chic.

Because the music has that jazz feeling to it, and because I feel that the children look better doing more natural movements than ballet steps they are not quite ready for, the choreography is distinctly contemporary in vocabulary. While some dances have themes which relate either to "Eloise" or to New York of the 1950s - for example, in the 50's it was popular to dye poodles pink, so in our "Marzipan" the girls dance with pink toy poodles - we also have some dances which do riffs off the original Nutcracker. So we have a "Spanish" number where all the girls are dressed in bolero jackets but have shopping bags, and a sultry "Sugar Rum Cherry" which is danced by one of our teachers.

DH: Thanks for taking to share your inventive alternative to the ‘recital.” We could all use a bit of fairy dust now and then.

To contact Claire School of Dance call 713-880-5565 or visit