Night Tree at Pavilion Dance South West Online
Second Hand Dance’s production for children, in association with Pavilion Dance South West, has all the makings of a breath of fresh air in a present day where kids spend hours in front of computers for school and most new entertainment aimed at young people is fast noise and bright lights.
The two central characters, Nina and Kit (danced by Amarnah Amulundun and Keir Patrick), describe and enact their annual winter visit to the forest to find a tree, which they decorate with food for the woodland creatures. The roughly 20-minute narrative, delivered in three parts, is designed to be multi-sensory, and it’s certainly evocative. The duo are infectiously excited to be among the trees, and clever camerawork highlights aspects of the experience to draw viewers into a world of squelching mud, crunching leaves, warm hot chocolate and glancing torchlight after dark. The accompanying music, created by Amir Shoenfeld, is appropriately folky with some effective percussion and a whiff of paganism in the lyrics.
There is an activity pack that can be downloaded and printed, which includes instructions for creating a forest floor of leaves at home, a bird feeder, inspiration for drawings of nature, and a recipe for hot chocolate; there’s also the option for viewers in the Bournemouth area to have a picnic delivered by Green Label Kitchen, its contents fittingly vegan and with £1 of every order going to the Trussell Trust.
The potential is all there, and the central idea is commendable – connection with nature has never been more important and the environmental message is a valuable one – but the result is somehow underwhelming. The moments of magic when animals are encountered (perhaps the aspect of the story many of its young audience will most be looking forward to) are brief and less than inspiring. There are some lovely details to the animals’ costumes, which are simple and beautifully made, but the choreography is lacklustre. The online format, try as it might, cannot replicate the sounds and smells of the woods and the feel of wind in one’s hair, so the generally languid pace and relatively limited colour palette (all natural browns and greys, of course in keeping with the setting) are not enough to engage the show’s target audience of three to seven year-olds – though the effect on parents is undoubtedly soothing. The decision to have Nina and Kit relatively brightly attired in multicoloured hats and gloves only serves to heighten the drabness surrounding them.
It’s a shame, as the intention is very valid, and the short performance is a much-needed antidote to children’s entertainment that is often overstimulating with little benefit. Night Tree is a valiant effort, even if it is missing something in the delivery of its dance element. The irony is that, inevitably, it’s delivered on-screen, and its effect is hampered by the very digital arena it seeks to counter.
Photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou
Night Tree is available to stream from 19th February until 21st February 2021. For further information or to book visit the Pavilion Dance South West’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: