Taking the Kids to Handel's Bestiary

Jun. 17, 2017
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Nathan Wesselowski and the bees

We picnicked near Olympus. Afterwards, our two little daughters played with another kid and his stuffed stegosaurus by Ancestor. The Lynden Sculpture Garden is an interesting space for children. Both of my daughters (one in pre-k, the other entering 1st grade) were relating to all of the many sculptures in the field like they were a different kind of playground.

We were there for Handel’s Bestiary. it’s a fusion between Danceworks Performance Company and Milwaukee Opera Theatre. Various arias are performed in the company of dancers who glide around inspired by animals mentioned in the music.

My kids are used to playing in parks and watching performances, but they’re not used to doing both at the same time. It took them a little while to sink into the mood of the show. At the beginning of the program, a crowd materialized around artistic directors from both arts groups. They introduced the performance and Kathy Pyeatt began to sing a piece from Arianna in Creta accompanied by movements and motions of catlike lions at a picnic. My daughters crawled through to see what was going on uncertain of whether to watch Pyeatt or the dancers.

The aria ended and the dancers crawled out through the crowd, prompting audiences to go in one of two directions. My wife, my daughters and I followed a group of little kids dressed as bees out to a space in the garden where Diane Lane was beginning to perform a piece from Alcina alongside a woman moving in dance with a tiger headdress. By this time, my girls were actively watching the mingling of dance and vocals.

A song is sung. A dance accompanies it. Both end. There is applause. We all move to the next location. It’s a very pleasant rhythm that is well-suited to kids and adults who might not otherwise enjoy sitting in a theater to watch live opera.

Handel’s Bestiary is a blending of beauty and comedy in performances that glide from magical to comic in the idyllic space of a sculpture garden. Nathan Wesselowski plays on some very clever comic energy in songs drawing inspiration from both elephants and bees...both of which ended up being favorites of my daughters. Elephants are formed by groups of dancers in grey...at once both lithe and graceful while fusing together into the large, lumbering forms of massive mammals. The girls loved seeing the little children dressed as bees moving from song to song around the garden...when it came time for them to take turns stinging Wesselowski, it was an enjoyable chance for them to finally take the center of attention.

It’s really a delightful way to expose kids to live opera. The program moves in little bite-sized moments that allow for plenty of time to get lost in the beauty of the sculpture garden. Possibly the most dramatic juxtaposition between performance and sculpture is that of the Phoenix. Line and form of the costuming echoes lines and angles in the sculpture which serves as a backdrop. There are kids moving around in frog costumes. Occasionally actual frogs can be heard from the pond at the center of the musical circuit. There’s a dreamy magic exchanged between art and nature throughout the entire 75-minute program.

Handel’s Bestiary has its second of two performances tonight. The show begins at 7:00 p.m. The Lynden Sculpture Garden opens at 5:20 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit Milwaukee Opera Theatre online.

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