What sort of art is good for kids? One old notion is that it's good art, only, that children ought to consume: folk songs for toddlers, Bach beginning at first grade. John Stuart Mill and Felix Mendelssohn were nurtured on such a diet but the Department of Education and the Kennedy Center apparently think otherwise.
This is the ninth year that these two august organizations have sponsored Imagination Celebration, a festival of specially prepared "children's arts." Yesterday's fare, the premiere of "The Electronic Dance Transformer," is playing to mostly schoolchildren here at the Center's Musical Theater Lab and will then tour the country.
Bach it isn't, nor any of his closest choreographer equivalents -- Petipa, Bournonville, Duncan, Balanchine. What the work's creators, the members of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company from Utah, have brought to the stage is pure television. There's a theme that ties 10 skits together. It portrays people as computers. The analogy is pursued relentlessly in a monologue clogged with rhyme and alliteration and delivered with schoolmarm cheer by a woman costumed in space opera fashion. The dancers' costumes vary, but tend to the shiny side, and they collude with the choreography to hide rather than display the body.
Unquestionably, the staging is professionally smooth. Pacing is fast, but with no real attempt to develop any of the movement material -- basic modern dance with a jazz flavor. Even a scene called "The Quiet Mode" seems rushed because it is so brief. Much of the music sounds, indeed, as if it were composed by computers for computers. Visuals are the best component, especially the computer graphics projected onto the back of the stage.
The educational goal of the show was achieved, at least with the largely invited audience at the evening performance. These were grown-ups, and in the "move-along-with-the-dancers" section they managed to turn themselves into stupefyingly convincing robots.
Imagination Celebration, which began on Saturday and ends on April 13, is presenting four other events. If we must have child-slanted art, let's hope some of it will be akin to the work of a Hans Christian Andersen, Lewis Carroll or Walt Disney.