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TINY DANCERS

Kids Cafe Fest features ’Pucci:Sport’ and new work by Byrd

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Dancers aren’t born but nurtured, often starting from a very early age. And that’s exactly what Diane Jacobowitz has been doing - with a little help from a roster of celebrity choreographers - for nine years with Kids Cafe Festival.

The festival is produced by Dancewave, an organization Jacobowitz founded in 1979 to produce arts events, festivals and educational workshops for children and young adults. This year’s Kids Cafe Festival, at the Brooklyn Music School and Playhouse, included dance and sport workshops on Jan. 19, taught by the Peter Pucci Plus Dancers, a modern dance troupe whose namesake founder is a former all-American athlete and member of the modern dance group Pilobolus.

There will be an opening night benefit concert on Jan. 24, featuring Jacobowitz’s own Kids Company in the world premiere of "Memories of Bittersweet Lives," a newly commissioned work created by modern dance choreographer Donald Byrd. Kids Company has been working on the piece for an intensive 10-week rehearsal period with Byrd and his assistants.

The Peter Pucci Plus Dancers will also host Kids Cafe Festival performances and perform excerpts from "Pucci: Sport" on Jan. 25 and Jan. 26 at 3 pm. (Kids participating in the workshops will perform in the part called "Basketball.") And Nana Simopolous, another festival host, will perform her own Greek- and Middle Eastern-influenced music at the festival.

Other festival performance highlights include the Shenandoah Contemporary Dance Theater and Gestures Ensemble from the Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts in Harlem.

Jacobowitz’s Kids Company started in 2000 with "kids who really wanted to study dance more seriously," she says. Teenagers from throughout the city, who make it through an audition process, benefit from the program’s professional environment that both challenges and encourages.

Using space in the Berkeley Carroll School in Park Slope and the Mark Morris studio in Fort Greene, the teenagers work with internationally known American choreographers like Twyla Tharp, David Dorfman, Doug Varone and Bill T. Jones. This spring Kids Company will again work with Morris, who since his group’s move to Fort Greene, has been closely involved with the company, creating original pieces just for them.

Noah Weiss, a junior at Stuyvesant High School, has been with Kids Company for four years.

"Being a part of a company and not in a class makes me feel that what I’m doing is more important. You don’t only have an obligation to yourself, but also to everyone else in the company. There’s a sense of camaraderie," he told GO Brooklyn.

Noah, who lives in Park Slope, has danced in pieces by Mark Morris, David Dorfman and Donald Byrd.

"This gives me an opportunity to have a challenge in dance because we’re working with professional choreographers and doing professional pieces," he said.

In December, Noah performed with Kids Company at the Dancers Responding to AIDS benefit concert at the St. Marks in the Bowery Church, and at a Christmas concert at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

These kinds of events help Noah "get a taste of what it might be like to be a part of a professional company." And they’re exciting, he says because "I get to share months of work with an audience, and I get a feeling of accomplish­ment."

Noah is not sure whether he wants to be a professional dancer, but he does know that dance will always be a big part of his life. He is one of a group of 20 youths choreographer-dancer Jacobowitz is working with this year.

"I’ve worked with kids my whole life," she says. "I became a mother in the early ’90s. I got the idea then of focusing on kids. It’s an important focus now. It’s close to my heart."

The festival gives youngsters in Kids Company and throughout the city and beyond the opportunity to learn, to share and to show off. And it gives proud parents the chance to see their kids at their most enthusiastic and graceful.

 

"Kids Cafe Festival 2003" will be held at The Brooklyn Music School and Playhouse, 126 St. Felix St. at Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene. The benefit concert, featuring "Memories of Bittersweet Lives," by Donald Byrd, is at 8 pm on Jan. 24. Tickets are $100.

Festival performances of "Pucci: Sport" are at 3 pm on Jan. 25 and Jan. 26. Tickets are $10 for children, $15 for adults.

For more information about the schedule, call (718) 522-4696. To make reservations for the festival performances or the benefit concert call (718) 622-2548 or visit www.virtuous.com (NYC events) on the Web.

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