Seen at Islington Green Secondary School, London, January 30th, 2001.
Greencandle Dance Company has long experience in educational work. Their latest piece Alanna and the Tree, performed in schools and aimed at 7-12 year olds, deals with the deforestation of the rainforests and the economical and political conditions behind the destruction.
The well-moving, clear story is told in dance, song and theatre. Sometimes the issues seem very simplified, but it is impressive how many of the arguments and issues they touch upon: deforestation as "development", the corruption of the ruling elites, the global reach of the businesses involved.
A weakness of the production is that some of the texts are functional rather than good and functional. In some songs content is half-sacrificed to rhyme. They seem afraid of giving equal weight to all the issues they cover, so some of their premises and arguments are quickly mentioned in lines we are not given time to digest. If the company does not trust the audience to understand what they are saying, why are these lines in the script?
The story line is clear and simple to follow, but there are some strangely inconsequent twists. The tree can travel to the city with Alanna because she pulls its roots out of the ground - hardly a tree-friendly procedure! The forest wildlife is scary only to developers - showing some of the real dangers of the jungle would make the piece more realistic and give the central characters more emotions to play on. Our heroine Alanna is introduced through dancing and we hear her name only when she meets the president. The mis-pronounciation of it is a joke it's hard to appreciate when we know her name only from the title of the piece. The use of props is not consistent - what happened to the snake in the city? Why are the umbrellas brought in for the final celebration? Finally, throughout the piece there is a constant risk of making the "good" seem boring compared to the colourful and cool bad guys.
On the other hand, the idea of engaging the audience against the capitalist "Mr. Big" as the voice of the general public, and to highlight the choice between tempting consumerism and protection of the environment is brilliant. "Audience involvement" is often taken lightly by companies performing for children and rarely consists of anything else but making the children call out some answers to obvious questions. Here they are given a realistic problem, although it is fairly obvious what the "good" answer is. It makes the piece far more credible when the simplification does not hide away what tempting life styles and conditions global capitalism offers us.
One important nuance in the drama of the rain forests which the piece was nowhere near presenting is that deforestation is also fuelled by powerty. Much of the burning-down is done by poor farmers with no other means of supporting their family, not the greedy, concrete-loving, motor-saw-swinging man from the piece.
All in all, the piece seemed to captivate its audience and make them aware of some important ecology and conservation issues. It is an enjoyable introduction to stage dance and performance, and ought to reach many schools.
Relevant link: Greencandle Dance Company