Tag Archives: Hans Christian Andersen

A boy named Vincent

The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh (1889)

There were actually two Van Gogh children named Vincent, but the first was stillborn — and given a burial not usually afforded in earlier times. Van Gogh was born a year to the date later in 1853 to parents Theodorus (Dorus) and Anna van Gogh, who went on to have five more children.

Growing up, Van Gogh was closest to brother Theodorus (Theo). His letters to Theo reveal much of what Van Gogh biographers know of the man and artist known to most for painting “The Starry Night,” cutting off a portion of his own ear after years spent in and out of hospitals and asylums, and dying from a supposedly self-inflicted gunshot wound.

I say “supposedly” because Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Pulitzer Prize winning authors of “Jackson Pollock: An American Saga,” postulate in their latest book that Van Gogh died at another’s hand. Their “Van Gogh: The Life,” which is dedicated to their mothers and “all the artists of The Juilliard School,” was published just last year.

Van Gogh, Self Portrait, 1889

It’ll hold special interest for parents and teachers who plan to explore a “Van Gogh Alive” exhibit opening Monday, Feb. 13, at the Arizona Science Center. The multi-sensory exhibit, created by Grande Exhibitions in Australia, uses light, sound, movement and color — and runs through June 17.

The book is a scholarly but accessible work that breaks Van Gogh’s life into three periods — the early years (1853-1880), the Dutch years (1880-1886) and the French years (1886-1890). Chapter titles signal some of the book’s strongest themes — “A Strange Boy,” “God and Money,” “Orphan Man,” “A Grain of Madness,” “The Poet’s Garden” and “Two Roads.”

“Van Gogh: The Life” includes dozens of illustrations  and color plates. My favorites show Van Gogh at age 13 and age 18. We forget too often that famous artists were once children and teens, and Van Gogh’s story makes an especially compelling case for the balance of nature with nurture in human and artistic development.

Family life in Van Gogh’s day was dramatically different in many ways from our own, though remarkably similar in others. Family meals were a must, and reading was a daily occurrence for those fortunate enough to count themselves among the literate.

Seems Van Gogh took an early interest in both poetry and fairy tales — especially the works of Hans Christian Andersen. One favorite, Andersen’s “The Story of Mother,” is a dark tale — not surprising when you consider Van Gogh’s conflicted feelings for the mother he was both supremely attached to but unable to please.

The latest biography about Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh fared no better with his father, a Reverend disappointed by his son’s troubles with staying in school and making a decent living.

I wondered, while reading “Van Gogh: A Life,” how many family conflicts resulted from perceived differences between parent and child — and how many from unrecognized similarities.

The book explores both its subject and the surrounding society, and reveals much about parenting a child in Europe during Victorian times. Their parenting instruction materials were quite different than our own.

Calvinist principles, for Protestant families like the Van Goghs, weren’t applied with today’s finesse. Patriarchal families began exploring more democratic models after the French Revolution inspired folks to think in less hierarchical ways.

Still, it’s the little boy named Vincent that I returned to again and again while reading “Van Gogh: The Life.” It’s easy to picture the young Van Gogh reading and writing with great fervor, taking long nature walks alone or with brother Theo, learning to draw and paint from his mother, collecting things like bird eggs and wildflowers.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to explore the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

Coming up: There’s a rap for that!


Holiday dance memories

Jennifer backstage at The Nutcracker with Ballet Arizona

Both my daughters, now college age, danced in local holiday dance productions as children. Jennifer performed in “Frances Smith Cohen’s Snow Queen” and Ballet Arizona’s “The Nutcracker.” Lizabeth performed for many years in the Ballet Arizona production of “The Nutcracker” — in the roles of Mother Ginger’s child, grandfather mouse and party girl.

Afternoons spent together at holiday dance productions create wonderful family memories, like those I still cherish decades after seeing “The Nutcracker” performed in Colorado with my mother during many a holiday season. So I’m delighted to share news of options for Arizona families eager to create similar snapshots in time.

Your first opportunity to see “The Nutcracker” in the Valley this year will be the Ballet Etudes production, performed by youth dancers, opening Nov. 25. It runs through Dec. 11 at Chandler Center for the Arts. www.balletetudes.net.

Ballet and Friends performs “The Nutcracker”  Nov. 25-27 at the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix. It’s choreographed by artistic director Slawomir Wozniak. www.balletandfriends.org.

Another production of “The Nutcracker” featuring Valley youth will be performed by Southwest Youth Ballet Dec. 16 & 17 at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts. The production features music performed by the Chandler Symphony Orchestra. www.southwestyouthballettheatre.org.

“An Irish Nutcracker,” also featuring youth performers, is being presented by the Arizona Irish Dance Association in conjunction with Maguire Academy of Irish Dance. It’s coming to the Herberger Theater Center Dec. 17 and the Mesa Arts Center Dec. 18 — and features an Irish twist in both music and dance. www.maguireacademy.com.

Girls waiting their turn to audition for The Nutcracker with Ballet Arizona

The Ballet Arizona production of “The Nutcracker,” featuring choreography by artistic director Ib Andersen, is being performed at Symphony Hall in Phoenix Dec. 9-24. The cast includes both Ballet Arizona dancers and youth, some from the School of Ballet Arizona, selected through an audition process. Music will be performed by the Phoenix Symphony. www.balletaz.org.

A touring production featuring the Moscow Ballet, titled “Great Russian Nutcracker,” comes to the Comerica Theatre in Phoenix for just a single performance on Dec. 20. www.livenation.com.

A longtime Valley favorite, “Frances Smith Cohen’s Snow Queen,” is being performed Dec, 3-18 at the Herberger Theater Center. Cohen serves as artistic director for Center Dance Ensemble, the resident modern dance company of the Herberger Theater Center. This production, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” features both company dancers and youth (many  from Dance Theater West) selected through an audition process. www.centerdance.com.

The Arizona Dance Coalition presents “A Joyous Christmas” at various Valley locations Dec. 1, 3 and 4. It features guest artists Jeffrey Polston, formerly with Complexions Contemporary Ballet in NYC, and Astrit Zejnati, principal dancer with Ballet Arizona. Also AZDance’s professional dance roster, their “Children’s Christmas” company and dancers from “Movement E-Motion” — a dance program for “individuals with different abilities.”  www.azdancecoalition.org.

Make time for dance this holiday season  — because the rush of retail fades far too quickly, but shared experiences with on-stage magic last a lifetime.

— Lynn

Note: If your dance company is presenting a holiday dance production not noted above, please comment below to let our readers know.

Coming up: Thanksgiving fun — NYC style

HONK! against hate

Back in the hippie heyday, bumpers stickers starting with “Honk if you…” were all the rage. Honk if you love Jesus. Honk if you’re horny. I prefer the more modern takes. Honk if you ♥ librarians. Honk if you love peace and quiet. Think about honking if you love conceptual art.

If Brenda Goodenberger of Glendale had her way, they’d all read “Honk if you hate hate.” Goodenberger is a mother of nine, grandmother of three and longtime theater professional making her directing debut with “Honk! Jr.” at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria.

L to R: Kira Kadel (Cat), Marshall Scott (Ugly) and Ashley Sneddon (Ida) in Honk! Jr. at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria (Photo: Steve Salik)

“Honk! Jr.” is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” — a tale Goodenberger embraces “given the startling statistics of bullying in the modern world.” She touts the show’s timeless message: “It’s who we are on the inside that truly matters!”

“As an artist,” says Goodenberger, “I have spent my entire life being a little different than many of my peers, and I have always been a loud supporter of equality for all peoples regardless of race, gender, class, religion or sexual orientation.”

“Honk! Jr.” is an adpatation of the musical “Honk!” featuring music by George Stiles and book/lyrics by Anthony Drewe. “Honk!” earned the British Olivier Award in 2000 for best musical, beating out both “Mamma Mia!” and “The Lion King.”

The Creative Stages Youth Theatre production includes a cast of 43 youth ages 7-16. CSYT is headed by artistic director Jim Gradillas, who worked several years ago with Theater Works, also in the West Valley.

Cast of Honk! Jr. at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria

I’ll never forget the AriZoni Awards ceremony at the Herberger Theater Center the year Gradillas’ supporters did a bit too much of their own “honking” each time his name was mentioned on stage.

Those of you attending this year’s AriZoni Awards ceremony Monday night at the Tempe Center for the Arts might want to tone this down a bit for the benefit of those with smaller or humbler cheering sections.

As I wrote this post, a press release from Theater Works came across my virtual desk — noting their production of the “King and I” opening Fri, Sept 23. It’s another work with an “anti-hate” theme — one I often conjure when politicians do their “America is the center of the universe” dance.

The King looks rather foolish during “The King and I” when he unfurls a flag depicting his beloved Siam as a giant country when it’s really rather small. Sometimes theater is more effective than other means at conveying such things.

Still, “Honk! Jr.” is more than a morality tale. It’s also awfully good fun, with songs like “A Poultry Tale,” “Play With Your Food,” and “Warts and All.” You can see “Honk! Jr.” at Creative Stages Youth Theatre through Sun, Sept 25. Tickets are available online at www.csyt.org.

“The family that does plays together,” quips Goodenberger, “stays together.” She and husband Ken have a “blended family” of children ages seven to 28. Many share the couple’s fondness for performing.

I like to think that theater works wonders for families in the audience too. So drive on over to Peoria for a bit of theater time with your children — and let them give a little honk along the way.

— Lynn

Note: Program notes for CSYT’s “Honk! Jr.” include two anti-bullying websites — www.stopbullying.gov and www.thetrevorproject.org. Learn more about the Goodenberger family at www.goodenberger.com. Find Creative Stages Youth Theatre at www.csyt.org and Theater Works at www.theaterworks.org. Both theaters are located in Peoria.

Coming up: Spotlight on the 2011 AriZoni Awards (visit www.arizoniawards.com for info on the Sept 19 ceremonies)

Starlight shares new season

Starlight Community Theater in Anthem is among just a handful of community theaters who’ve already announced their 2011-2012 season.

When I got the news, I noticed that five of the six pieces have previous film adaptations. Some are based on books, some have Broadway adaptations and one has even been adapted for radio broadcast.

In previous incarnations, they starred folks like Natalie Wood, Gene Wilder, Sarah Jessica Parker, Johnny Depp, Boris Karloff, Carol Burnett and Eddie Albert.

The 2011-2012 Starlight Community Theater season opens with “Willy Wonka” — based on a 1964 Roald Dahl book titled “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” A 1971 film adaptation starred Gene Wilder, while the 2005 version featured Johnny Depp.

I think it would be grand fun to have a “Willy Wonka” weekend. Let your kids invite some friend over to watch the films, enjoy a sleepover and hit a matinee of the Spotlight performance the next day.

The game and craft possibilities are plentiful. Think giant colored “lollypops” that spin atop long sticks. Treasure hunts for small candies. Board games like “Candyland.” An old-fashioned taffy pull. Puzzles with a candy theme. Facepainting peppermints and gumdrops on glowing cheeks.

I love the fact that kids can access these works in other ways before or after seeing the Starlight productions on stage.

They can watch both “Miracle on 34th Street” films (1947, 1994) before seeing Starlight perform “Miracle on 34th Street, the Musical” on stage. And enjoy the 2010 Disney film “Tangled” before attending the Starlight performance of “Rapunzel” (a “Jim Gradillas Kids Production”). And they can read Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princes and the Pea” before seeing the stage adaptation called “Once Upon a Mattress.”

The content is a bit more mature for two of their 2011-2012 offerings. Tweens and teens familiar with the 1980 and/or 2009 film versions of “Fame” may enjoy revisiting the movies before seeing Starlight perform “Fame!” on stage. There’s also “Arsenic & Old Lace” who those who enjoy mixing their slapstick with a good dose of dark comedy.

Stay tuned to the Starlight Community Theater website for additional details — audition dates, performance dates and more specifics on each show. Then have fun with these shows. Think birthday parties, outings with grandparents, playdates with friends.

And if one of these shows inspires your child to create a fun piece of artwork, write an original poem, perform a delightful puppet show — or craft something else fueled by his or her own creativity, I’d love to hear about it or share some photos with our readers.

— Lynn

Note: You can always send photos of your children’s music, dance and theater-inspired art to me at rakstagemom@gmail.com for possible inclusion in upcoming posts.

Coming up: More new season announcements

Dance with a holiday twist

The early bird may catch the worm, but latecomers sometimes get the warm fuzzies.

If you’ve yet to purchase your tickets to see the Radio City Rockettes perform their “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” at Jobing.com Arena, take heart.

Tickets purchased for any of the four shows on Dec 1-2 will result in a $2 donation to the Ronald McDonald House Charities when patrons get tickets through Ticketmaster using the code “RMHC.”

Radio City Rockette Mary Cavett from Tucson visits with children at Ronald McDonald House (Photo: Scott Baxter)

Mary Cavett, originally from Tucson, was one of several Rockettes to visit the original Ronald McDonald House in August — and is proud to be performing audience favorites like “Dance of the Wooden Soldiers” here in her home state.

Local dance companies also offer plenty of family-friendly options.

This weekend you can enjoy a performance by students with the Arizona School of Classical Ballet, the School of Ballet Arizona and the Metropolitan Arts Institute.

Arizona students join forces for a fundraising performance this weekend

Their “Winter Fairy Tales” takes place Sun, Nov 21, at 2pm and 6pm — at the newly renovated Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix.

If you’ve yet to see the new space, this is the perfect opportunity to couple a tour with supporting the Valley’s young talent.

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for “Frances Smith Cohen’s Snow Queen,” based on the tale by Hans Christian Andersen — having loved my years as a backstage mom when my daughters danced with Dance Theater West in Phoenix.

"Frances Smith Cohen's Snow Queen" returns to the Herberger stage in December

“Snow Queen” is presented by Center Dance Ensemble, the resident modern dance company of the Herberger Theater Center, Dec 4-19. It’s full of charming characters, costumes and set pieces.

The holidays are about giving — so remember those in need this season. Support resources like the Ronald McDonald House and others near and dear to your heart.

And make time to honor the work of Arizona children and teens involved with the performing arts. For these are the creative, disciplined and hard-working citizens who will help us all dance into the coming decades.

— Lynn

Note: For a comprehensive list of holiday-related events for families, check print and online calendar listings from Raising Arizona Kids magazine. Also watch for updates to this post as I learn of additional holiday dance performances.

Coming up: Valley theaters offering holiday fare — from East Valley Children’s Theatre to Valley Youth Theatre; Valley student and acrobat performs with “Cirque Dreams Illumination”

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Trent Tyson, Noah Gallego & Trevor Bowler perform at Mesa Arts Center with East Valley Children's Theatre

Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is one of many treasures, past and present, to originate in Denmark.

Recently I enjoyed a children’s musical based on this classic fairy tale, which reminded me of the two reasons I never tire of live performance art.

It allows us to forget while inspiring us to remember.

Famous Danes include philosopher Soren Kierkegaard

Decades old scrapbooks from my own college adventures include several photos taken during Scandinavian travels — which were especially meaningful given my study of existentialists like Soren Kierkegaard and my Norwegian heritage.

One of my favorite photos depicts a simple statue of Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” — which captured my heart long before Disney debuted its marvelous musical based on the timeless tale.

I was adopted as an infant, but know that my biological father was studying architecture in college — which piques my interest in famous Danish architects like Jorn Utzon, the 20th century architect behind the stunning Sydney Opera House in Australia (whose life and times may well be worthy of their own homage a la musical theater).

Sydney Opera House features design by Danish architect Jorn Utzon

I was delighted when fellow stage mom Carolyn McBurney mentioned she was directing “The Emperor’s New Clothes” for East Valley Children’s Theatre — which features book by Karen Boettcher-Tate and music by Bill Francoeur.

McBurney has a degree in “theatre, English, and history” and worked post-college as both actress and director. She recently earned an AriZoni nomination for her performance in “Phaedre” with Nearly Naked Theatre (also known by the tamer “n2t”) — which specializes in “mature audience” only productions.

McBurney also is well known in the Valley for two decades of marketing and community relations craft in the television industry.

I’m more familiar with the work of her daughter, Robyn McBurney, who recently performed in ASA’s production of “Lucky Stiff” and served as assistant director alongside faculty director Toby Yatso, an associate artist with Phoenix Theatre. She also performs with ASA’s “Glee Choir.”

Statue of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen

I went to see “The Emperor’s New Clothes” Friday evening at the Mesa Arts Center, where I recently enjoyed “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” performed by Mesa Encore Theatre, another of the MAC’s many resident companies (there’s also Ballet Etudes, Southwest Shakespeare Company and more).

But I was shocked, appalled really, by what I saw there. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was a funny, spirited show with a cast long on talent, enthusiasm and elbow grease. That was no surprise. But there were far too many empty seats for a production of this quality — which leaves me wondering what everyone else was up to that night.

Earlier that day I heard a television news report noting that American children spend 900 hours a year in the classroom, compared to 1,500 hours a year watching TV. Am I the only one who thinks our kids might need more time in better schools, and more enriching options for evenings and weekends?

“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is being performed through Oct 17 in Mesa (which is convenient for just about everyone thanks to oodles of newer freeways). If you’re a parent, it’s a good weekend to “lose” the remote control. If you’re a teacher, it’s a good time to trade pencil and paper homework assignments for live performance art.

I sat in the second row Friday night, right behind two moms who’d brought their very young daughters (with blankets) along to see the show. The little girls were beaming afterwards when the large cast formed a long line in the lobby to meet and greet guests of all ages.

Plenty of adults enjoyed and laughed at this production (I was among them) — but next weekend I hope they’ll have a full house for every show, complete with lots of elementary age children for whom this is the perfect material.

The sets and costumes are bright and colorful with wonderful detail, the music and choreography are simple yet charming, and the acting is among the best I have seen in local youth theater. (And yes, there’s a terrific director in the mix.)

"The Little Mermaid" sculpture in Copenhagen

After the show, I spent some time reading through the program and enjoying the bios of talented actors including Rebecca Arias (Empress), Trevor Bowler (Wart), Jonah Carlson (Aaron the Minstrel), Raini Hawkins (Old Person), Trent Tyson (Hog) and Alexi Vogel (Small Child).

Noah Gallego, a 9th grader at Hamilton Prep in Chandler, performs the lead. Gallego’s preening and pouty “Emperor Plumptoe” is the hypochondriacal, fashion-obsessed ruler who eventually endures a musical mocking titled “The Man in the Underpants” thanks to his out of control ego and spending habits.

East Valley Children’s Theatre’s production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is an enchanted take on Andersen’s fairy tale with a modern twist that’s spot on for the mall- and media-obsessed of all ages. Take your children — even those who’ve outgrown their blankets — and enjoy an hour of frolicking good fun together.

Before you know it, they’ll be college bound and off on their own world travels…


Note: Another remarkable Danish artist, artistic director Ib Andersen of Ballet Arizona, creates art in many mediums right here in the Valley. To enjoy another adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s work, attend an upcoming performance of “Snow Queen” presented by Center Dance Ensemble.

Coming up: A review of “The Color Purple,” being performed this week at Mesa Arts Center and the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix