Dancers bring children’s book to life in Mt. Lebanon
Pigs don’t do ballet.
Under normal circumstances, no. But thanks to Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh students bringing the imagination of author David Ira Rottenberg to life, an exception was made at Mt. Lebanon Montessori School and Academy.
Rottenberg narrated from his book “Gwendolyn, the Graceful Pig” as five young dancers enacted the story, to the delight of the school’s students and their families.
“It’s an opportunity for our children to see a really great performance, and for them to learn a little bit about how to be an audience member and see children their own age performing in a lovely presentation,” school director Megan Steen said.
Putting their terpshichorean talents on display for the April 8 performance were dancers Kyra Piper, Bridie McQuade, Sara Mullen, Chloe Ruby, Brenna McElhinny and David O’Matz.
Steven Piper, ballet academy co-director, said Rottenberg approached his school three years ago about participating when he brought his program to Pittsburgh, and the students have been doing so since.
“When he first contacted us, he had a video that we kind of learned off,” Piper said. “We changed a couple of things here and there, but it’s still the original choreography, if you will.”
“Gwendolyn” is the story of how the title character sees a dance studio open next to the farm on which she lives and decides she’d like to give it a try, but doesn’t know if it will work, with her being a pig and all.
Meanwhile her friend Omar wants to play football but is too clumsy. He also is a pig, so that also might have something to do with the limitations of his species.
Anyway, the ever-confident dance instructor Natasha Levertov (Chloe) teaches both of them how to dance, and by extension, Omar becomes a gridiron hero.
Rottenberg, a suburban Boston resident, told about how he started integrating dancers’ performances into his readings.
“How it came together was when I first had the book available, I was going to be giving a reading at a Barnes & Noble,” he recalled. “And I suddenly said to myself, what mothers are going to take their kids just to see me read a book? Then I had the bright idea, well, why don’t I get some ballerinas to come along?
“At first, I would just read the book and then the ballerinas would do a dance demonstration,” he explained. “But then at some point, it all became like a little mini-ballet.”
A Columbia University graduate, Rottenberg has published two novels and co-authored three business books, along with writing for publications such as Boston Magazine and the Boston Globe and composing the content for “Soldiers of Beauty,” a collection of poems about the ballet.