http://vimeo.com/96837136 In her role as Performance Arts teacher at Ross Lower School, Margaret Kestler works with students in pre-nursery through grade 6 to help them express their understanding through theatrical performances, including the new Beginnings.
In this blog post, Margaret describes Beginnings, which she wrote, developed, and now directs at the Lower School.
About Beginnings Beginnings is a dramatic narrative encapsulating the Ross Lower School Spiral Curriculum. It is a manifestation of the intellect and imagination—a living work of art, integrating theater, dance, music, visual arts, and cultural history. Through interpretive performance, each grade unfolds and moves their part of the story forward, offering a curricular gift to the next grade.
The performance is timed to coincide with spring, when the cycle of life begins anew. The central archetypes are Storyteller, Actor, Musician, Artist, and Mathematician/Logician, and each grade, from youngest to oldest, performs its part of the story in turn.
Grade 6 acts as the voice of the Collective Consciousness, modeled after the concept of the Greek chorus. Through song, narration, movement, and dance, the chorus helps the audience follow the dramatic action. The voice of the Collective Consciousness “speaks” for the prehistoric and pre-language cosmos, communicating the evidence of human discovery.
With the archetype of Storyteller taking center stage, kindergarten begins with the idea of the Teacher, or Ancient Wisdom, speaking forth to the children of generations, telling the story of the creation of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The intellect and imagination of the young embrace the wonder of beginnings, performing vibrant expressions that grasp and interpret the creation of the elements. These are then passed on as a gift to the first grade.
Receiving the four elements, first graders use their bodies as instruments of artistic expression and “tools” as artistic extensions of themselves to create, from raw chaos, designs and rhythmic patterns and cycles that repeat in an organized and predictable way and are at the heart of artistic creation. These patterns, and in particular the circular pattern or cycles expressed through movement and sound, are offered as a curricular gift to the second grade.
Second grade takes the elements and the stirring of them into rhythmic patterns, and links them to the raw materials that pronounce themselves to us across time in the form of systems. The confluence of the elements into the “big bang” and the creation of the universe is performed through movement and music, like the song of wheels spinning and forming heavenly bodies that move in orbits around stars and become part of a myriad, our Solar System, and within that system, Earth. The gift to the third grade is Earth and its systems, and musically, the movement from the rhythms of celestial cycles to harmonies.
Through music and movement, the third grade interprets geological and biological evolution, from the first life forms to early humans. They portray life forms over time—those that adapt and those that become extinct. Their gift is fire: actual fire and the symbolic embodiment of early humans harnessing the elements and managing the conditions to survive. The first sounds of human voice are heard, the primal “wawp” that would evolve into speech, as music moves from harmony to melody.
The fourth graders’ performance imagines the world of Paleolithic clans, shamans, goddess worship, and ritual, interpreting these concepts through dramatic movement, theatrical embodiment, and expression of character, music, and art. Here, fire represents the elemental forces as resources for the first human settlements and the beginning of culture. The long journey of human migration has begun, bringing with it the Neolithic era and methods of animal domestication, the discovery of the seed, and the advent of farming. The gift to the fifth grade is culture, symbolized in an artifact: a staff. Symbolically, through music, we move from melody to song.
The fifth grade takes culture and portrays how resources become the determinants of building cities. The story of the goddess Inanna comes to life, illuminating the beliefs from Mesopotamia/Sumer mythology. Then, through the enacted story of Isis and Osiris, ancient Egyptian beliefs in preparation for the afterlife are examined through music and dance. Students return to the creation story as a human construct in their search for meaning, and offer the sixth grade the gift of civilization—the written word. The music moves the story back to the Greek chorus.
The sixth graders then frame the entire story, expounding on the threads of accumulating knowledge and experience, the contributions of the particular peoples and cultures, and the evolving human consciousness that flows through the curriculum. Their performance shows a shift from polytheism to monotheism and the concept of one as a principle of a monotheistic universe, and ultimately celebrates the human journey—expanding and reaching for the undiscovered shores of experience, wonder, and knowledge, as far as the stars and to the divine.