If you have a little one you’re ready to introduce to live theater, December might be the perfect time. Like many other theater companies, San Francisco dance company, ODC, has a family-friendly show just waiting to become a new holiday tradition for your family. ODC carefully orchestrates the perfect viewing environment for little kids. Whether it’s their first ever show, or they’re little theater veterans, they are sure to enjoy this magical theater experience.
The Velveteen Rabbit is a classic children’s book expertly crafted into a quasi-ballet that’s sure to delight young audiences and engage their parents as well. While the show is not perfect, it’s a truly impressive dance performance while remaining accessible and fun for young audience members.
The show tells the story of a stuffed rabbit given to a little boy for Christmas. The Rabbit is initially put on a shelf and meets the boy’s other toys before becoming his favorite stuffed animal. As the rabbit becomes more worn, he discovers what it means to be loved and the varying degrees of how he can become “real.” It’s a sweet story that every child should have the opportunity to know, which ODC has lovingly translated to the stage.
Most importantly, the dancing is phenomenal. The fifteen adult dancers in the cast are limber and expressive, everything you would expect from a great dance company. The main roles of the Velveteen Rabbit, The Boy, Nana and the Fairy are each played by two actors who dance every other show. The actors who play “The Boy,” Daniel Santos and Jeremy Bannon-Neches, do an impressive amount of tumbling—in addition to dancing— that really recreates the energy and joviality of boyhood.
A rotating cast of ten kids support the adults. While the show would be more technically strong without the kids, they add a wonderful feeling of youth and freshness that can be severely lacking in other ballets. One little dancer in particular, Ruby Rosenquist, in the cast of children that I saw, really stood out as a little girl who loves being on stage. As someone who has been on stage since the age of three, it is always nice to see kids who truly glow when they get in front of an audience.
The most impressive part of the show, however, is how well it is tailored for children. Even very little kids can easily understand and identify with the characters, though the show uses very few words. Before the show starts, you can purchase an activity book, rabbit ears and your very own velveteen rabbit in the lobby. Once you take your seats, someone comes out to remind everyone that clapping is how to show appreciation for the actors on stage and the show begins.
Overall, it’s a nice melding of an audiobook and a ballet. The dancers perform over music interspersed with narration from the original children’s story. The smart mix of narration and dance keep both kids and adults interested in the story.
The biggest flaw of the show is the recorded singing of Rinde Eckert. Every so often the dancers perform to a song with lyrics. The simplistic lyrics could be forgiven if it weren’t for the nearly off-key voice singing them. For a show that is so great in every other respect (including dancing, tumbling, lighting, staging and choreography), Eckert’s vocals are a real disappointment.
This is also not the show to pick if you’re uncomfortable with wiggly neighbors. The show is for the little kids. You can certainly enjoy it as an adult, but not if you’re going to be unhappy about the occasional outburst from the audience.
ODC is performing The Velveteen Rabbit November 25th through December 10th at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard Street, San Francisco. The show runs about an hour and fifteen minutes with one intermission and tickets are just $15.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Weeks