George Mason Helps Elementary Students Stage Original Opera

Posted: March 10, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Surrounded by about 30 outspoken sixth graders, four dancers from the David Dorfman Dance group sit on the floor at Hunters Woods Elementary School in Reston, Va., teaching about rhythm and breathing. Andrew Loftus, a music specialist and band teacher at Hunters Woods, stands to the side watching his students as they plant bare feet on the school’s theater floor, imagining their legs are jelly. They try not to giggle as they breathe in, imagining their stomachs are balloons.

In a few months, these children will be responsible for the production and presentation of their own original opera–written, directed, performed, and staged by no one older than 13–at George Mason’s Harris Theatre. More than 150 students make up the sixth-grade class, and each has a part in the production. Loftus and his fellow teachers, as well as the faculty and staff in the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) at George Mason, have their hands full.

For the past eight years, the Hunters Woods Elementary School and George Mason have allowed the magic of opera to come to life for young students. Teachers in the school have been helping their students prepare for the opera for most of the academic year–integrating the writing, composing, and other elements into the curriculum–and George Mason faculty have been offering guidance and support. As a result, those involved say, the opera program has been a great success.

“The professionals at Mason have consulted and advised students for years–they really have it down,” says Loftus.

Stephen Hockett, principal of Hunters Woods, agrees. “Our relationship with George Mason has really grown over the years. Not only do the faculty and staff help produce this opera with us, but they also provide incredible opportunities for the children to meet and interact with great musicians.”

These opportunities include the David Dorfman dance class that the students participated in last week, learning breathing, rhythm, and choreography from professionals. The Dorfman Group is visiting George Mason and local elementary and high schools in the region for a nearly two-week-long residency. The group also opened several rehearsals to the public at the Prince William Campus last week and visited with the Impact of the Arts class on campus. The company will perform on Friday at the Center for the Arts as part of the American College Dance Festival at George Mason this week.

The Hunters Woods opera, Twisted Trails and Friendship Tales, will be performed at Harris Theatre in late May. Students have already begun memorizing their parts and are working on T-shirts and posters to advertise the event.

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