Scenes from a Tree offers a multiarts theatre experience to toddlers

Sesaya

Sesaya

Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.

Nathalie Derome, Karine Sauvé and Amélie Dumoulin (photo by Émilie Bouchard)

At the end of a recent music-and-movement class, little Hanbi had a silent mutiny. Refusing to sit in her father’s lap for the ritual goodbye song, she instead insisted on standing in front of her teacher and insistently tapping her foot. Seeing the specific rhythm of the taps, her mother marvelled, “Oh! She wants us to sing ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’.” At 15 months, Hanbi is preverbal and communicates through gestures, as well as by willingness or refusal to do what she’s asked. Neither spoiled nor stubborn, she adroitly uses her pre-verbal toddler communication tools to “voice” her opinions. In this case, the goodbye song signaled the end of a weekly class she loves . . . yet that class had omitted her favourite song! She wasn’t happy, and she knew it. So she communicated her desire to sing it by enacting her favourite part of the song: she stamped her feet.

With her rich, responsive and contextual communication, Hanbi will be right at home in the audience for Scenes from a Tree, a play for toddlers by Montréal company Des mots d’la dynamite which is now playing at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre (YPT), Scenes From a Tree was specially created for children 18 months to 4 years, conceived and developed by Nathalie Derome, Amélie Dumoulin and Karine Sauvé, and features Nathalie Derome, Karine Sauvé and Anne Brulotte-Légaré.  

The appeal of theatre for its youngest attendees isn’t news to Des mots d’la dynamite, which specializes in creating interdisciplinary works for adult and young audiences. Calling their shows a “tribute to poetry, creative thinking, and the freedom of being”, Des mots d’la dynamite blend performance, spoken word, theatre, music, poetry, dance, object theatre, visual and media arts.

In 2008, the innovative company turned its focus to creating performance art for audiences 18 months to 5 years old. They studied the theories of English pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicot to help them meet the needs of a young audience. Then they collaborated with the pupils and educators of La Sourithèque daycare centre in Montréal to get practical input into the development of  Scenes from a Tree. The piece was created over several months, during which short segments were presented to different age groups, with the script based on the children’s reactions and the educators’ comments.

Anne Brûlotte-Légaré, Karine Sauvé and Nathalie Derome (photo by Émilie Bouchard)

Scenes from a Tree is a series of sketches inspired by the changing of the seasons and resembles imaginative child’s play, in which children create imaginary worlds using everyday objects. Through stories, songs and nursery rhymes, the performance connects the life-cycle of the natural world with feelings about growing up and putting down roots. A tactile garden grows onstage, and three tree-like fairies weave a visual landscape out of wool and knitwork, forming the backdrop of the piece. As the show progresses, their shifting bodies create living images and changing scenes.

While children in the audience will respond to the visual and aural stimuli on stage, their adults will also appreciate the depth of the symbolism within the work. The tree of the play’s title represents the natural environment, as well as the criticality of trees to all other living things. The changing leaves signal the cycle of seasons, which evokes the inevitability of time passing. The seasons and their characteristic features are depicted through poetry. The three tree-like fairies with their talent with yarn recall the mythological Fates and Graces, and symbolize the power of the imagination, of creativity and handicrafts. The yarn, a clear association with the 3 Fates, connects the different scenes together, with knitting as a symbol for both the passing of time and its repetitive nature.

Since its debut in 2009 at the Petits bonheurs Festival, Scenes from a Tree has earned peer recognition and audience success. It has been performed more than 125 times in both French and English, and continues to tour throughout Canada. In 2012, it was performed in the United States, and in 2013, it won a 1st prize for Best Female Performance at the 11th edition of Katowice – Dzieciom in Poland, an international festival of children’s theatre. And until February 26, Toronto families can also experience the multifaceted and multisensory Scenes from a Tree, which includes a 15-minute playtime following the 35-minute performance.

Youngsters like Hanbi may not yet have acquired words, yet they share our capacity to be compelled by our experiences and interactions. And they are willing to show their engagement – and offer their opinions: on daily experiences as well as more exotic ones, such as a visit to the theatre (until recently deemed unsuitable for children so young). As seen earlier this year in the runaway success of One Thing Leads to Another, YPT’s wordless show created expressly for infants, the tiniest of theatregoers can be the most enthusiastic participants. So before, during or after the Family Day weekend, consider sharing the evocative and whimsical Scenes from a Tree with your youngsters. You may be surprised by what they share with you. 

News You Can Use

Image courtesy of Young People’s Theatre

What: Scenes From a Tree, featuring Nathalie Derome, Karine Sauvé and Anne Brulotte-Légaré; created and developed by Nathalie Derome, Amélie Dumoulin and Karine SauvéEnglish translation by Nadine Desrochers; a production of Des mots d’la dynamite

When: February 15 – 26, 2017

Who: Audiences 18 months to 4 years; free admission for babes-in-arms under 12 months

Where: Young People’s Theatre, Studio, 165 Front Street East, Toronto, ON

For Information and Tickets: YoungPeoplesTheatre.ca or 416.872.2222

Learn More: YPT Study Guide and additional resources from Desmotsdladynamite.com

© 2017 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

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