by Monika Jašinskaitė

“Dansema’s productions are restructured experiences that help introduce brand-new spectators to art and entertainment.”

Donald Hutera, “The Times

Introduction

When we say that we present the theatre for babies, we mostly get two types of reactions – an enthusiastic “finally my baby’s got to experience a real theatre!”, or wondering “why would a baby need this? He doesn’t understand yet”.

Well, as per science of today – he does! It’s not that a baby wakes up one day and decides to talk, walk, jump or kick out of nothing – this is a result of observing the environment and imitating it. And that’s what the theatre for babies and toddlers is about – in an artistic way, to invite the little ones to OBSERVE and IMITATE. To do it properly, the theatre-maker needs to know about different stages of the development of a child – when can a baby mentally grasp sizes, shapes, colors, sounds? What amount and intensity of music, color, movement is right to offer? What is the right amount of information to give?

These are serious questions which theaters for babies and toddlers answer in a seemingly unserious way – by playing and having fun. For this, a theatre-maker needs to be an entertainer, a psychologist, a paedagog and an artist in one.

Below is the conversation with one of such theatre makers – the choreographer and educator Birutė Banevičiūtė, whose performance COLOURFUL GAMES for children of 6 to 36 months will be in Dubai in June. This will be the 2nd visit of the Dansema Dance Theatre after the successful performance PUZZLE in October 2019. In the article you will find out why Birutė creates for infants and toddlers and how she does so.

COLOURFUL GAMES will be performed at Sima Performing Arts on June 11 & 12. Full information about the event is here. This performance would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsor Alserkal.

Below is an abbreviation of an article “Performances for Infants by Dansema and Birutė Banevičiūtė” by MONIKA JAŠINSKAITĖ. The full article (link) was originally published in 09.03.2019 at the online magazine for performing arts menufaktura.lt

HIBA Art Project


For ten years, Dansema has been the only dance theatre in Lithuania creating performances for children. During the recent years, Head of the theatre and choreographer Birutė Banevičiūtė has managed to convince the audiences both in Lithuania and abroad that not only children but also infants can watch her performances.

The works by this dance artist evoke pleasant emotions not only in the youngest appreciators of art but also in their parents. Certain principles lie behind these seemingly simply structured stagings not requiring virtuoso performance. This is the calling card of choreographer Banevičiūtė. “Having been creating for children for ten years – out of which five years have been devoted to infants – I can say that I do have my system,” says the choreographer. “It’s based on theoretical literature about the understanding of art, developmental psychology, my own experience as a dance teacher, and practical workshops for children after Dansema performances.”

As the artist claims in the portal Media forumas, everything started in 2006, when Cultural Attaché of Sweden in Lithuania Torsten Schenlaer introduced the experience of his country to Lithuanians and invited our choreographers to the international contemporary dance festival for a young audience Salto! in Malmö. Banevičiūtė recollects that, “When I created for adults, I felt the urge to express my thoughts and feelings. When I started creating for children, I pushed away my artistic ambitions. My biggest aim was to help children understand what we do. I feel really grateful to Torsten for this. He revealed important things about creating for children. Of course, I also read a lot about this and I was interested in psychological as well as physical development of children. So, naturally, absolutely different things became of great significance. When creating for children, a choreographer becomes a psychologist.” 

One of the conditions for success of Dansema is similar psychological and physical development of children in different corners of the world. “During our tours in various countries, I’ve noticed that the reactions of children under three are the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s Shanghai, Berlin, Kiev or Washington. The peculiarities of psychological development of children don’t differ that much. The only possible differences can be associated with the cultural and communication peculiarities of their parents,” Banevičiūtė says in the portal menufaktura.lt. “We are often asked how such abstract dance can be presented to children. We don’t personify rabbits or foxes. And our costumes are abstract. But children understand everything. Judging from what they do during a performance, how they repeat our movements or play with the set after a performance, we can say that they do notice and understand everything. This is one more proof that dance is the only universal language. It is understandable irrespective of cultural or age differences.”

When Banevičiūtė started creating for infants, she had to change the attitude of the audience. She says, “Speaking about the theatre for infants, the attitude of parents is that small children don’t understand anything. This naturally arouses questions – if they claim that a child doesn’t understand anything, why do they bring them to the theatre? A lot of adults, not necessarily parents (possibly teachers, educators and even some theatre enthusiasts), consider that children ‘can’ start going to the theatre when they are five, i.e. when they ‘already understand.’ Yes, a five-year-old can speak their mind and express their attitude after a performance, but children do understand from the very start – it’s us who don’t recognise the signs of their understanding.”

Banevičiūtė has paid great attention to the research on infant reactions. “You can’t dance to children in the same way you do to adults,” explains the artist in the portal Media forumas. “The technique is identical but choreography is different. When together with the dancers we created performances for children, our aim was to repeat the movements that are familiar to infants and children. I’ve noticed that when the small spectators climb on the stage or return home after our performances, they try to move, do somersaults and throw pillows in the air like our dancers do.”

One of the most important tasks when creating performances for infants is to catch their attention, whereas their reactions, according to the choreographer, come naturally. Due to different stages of psychological and physical development of children, Banevičiūtė tries to define the age group of the children her works are aimed at as accurately as possible. 

Even though the performances by Banevičiūtė are for infants, they also bring a lot of joy to parents. The choreographer observes: “I can tell from my own experience that parents often see their child in a completely different light when they come to the theatre. It is very important for parents to know how the behaviour of their child changes in different environments as this also encourages them to look for suitable circumstances to create positive environments.”

While creating a safe environment to the smallest spectators, the choreographer tries to change certain habits of their parents. Banevičiūtė emphasizes that, “Parents around the world as well as in Lithuania tend to urge their children to react. Without any pressure, I seek to show that a child needs time. After several seconds, they do show their reaction, which comes as a big surprise to their parents. Parents said the performance had left a big impression on them as they had seen their kids reacting in a different way than at home. Parents want their children to obey adults. They don’t give them enough time to settle down, realise and think things over. I believe this is the problem of modern parents.” 

Banevčiūtė created her first work for infants Puzzle in 2012. The second Dansema performance for infants Colourful Games was created in 2015. In the interview for magazine Krantai, the choreographer says that the performance developed through the observation of the reactions of children in Puzzle. The following three groups of the small spectators can be singled out: those who wish to engage in the action immediately, those who stay still for some time and then join in, and those who can sit without moving through the entire performance. Looking at different reactions of these groups, I’ve decided that in Colourful Games we should allow children to take part in the action at their own pace. 

In 2016, Colourful Games was also presented in Edinburgh. In the daily The Times, critic Donald Hutera writes that, “Part of the pleasure of Colourful Games is watching little kids having what may well be their first immersive theatrical experience. Lasting for a relaxed minutes, this simple but sweet performance presents movement in a circus context. Giedre Subotinaite, a dancer with a lovely presence, uses a variety of big top-themed props – from a small tent out of which her legs can pop, to ribbons, hoops, red noses and balls – to attract an audience of tykes and the adults accompanying them.” 

In Lithuania, Colourful Games has been awarded the National Golden Stage Cross in the category of the Best Performance for Children. Also, the choreographer was invited to transfer her work to foreign stages – Colourful Games was presented at the Hessian State Theatre of Wiesbaden (Germany) in 2016, and at the Dakh Theatre in Kiev (Ukraine) in 2018.

Critic Donald Hutera, who writes for the daily The Times, has rightly summarised the activities and achievements of the Lithuanian choreographer, Dansema’s productions are structured experiences that help introduce brand-new spectators to art and entertainment.”


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