This is not a show where children have to be shushed or distracted, or asked to sit still and stop fidgeting. And it’s certainly not a show where little ones are expected to be passive audience members, unable to react to and interact with the magical scene unfolding before them.
Here’s what it is: an interactive experience where children will be expected to take off their shoes and dive right into a whimsical world where the lines between art and play have been blurred, as they witness how a butterfly comes into being.
“Our target is to let kids experience and understand the life cycle of a butterfly, and we do that together with them. Not just through one approach, but through getting them to interact with the dancers,” explains art director Davide Venturini. Children, the main audience members, will be called upon during certain parts of the show to interact, take part and explore.
“Because really, the touch approach is what works with kids,” says Venturini.
Farfalle (Butterflies) created by theatrical wizards Venturini and Francesco Gandi and their Italian theatre ensemble Compagnia TPO, combines this touch approach with light, sound, colour, technology, digital prowess and storytelling, to present an interactive performance in a wondrous, immersive, multi-sensory environment that will delight the young, but also draw in the young at heart.
Making its debut in Abu Dhabi on Thursday at The Black Box in the Arts Centre at New York University Abu Dhabi, this is the first time Farfalle has been performed in the region since its creation seven years ago. Eighteen performances are scheduled for Abu Dhabi into October.
“It has been performed countless times all over the world, on every continent,” says Venturini, taking a break from directing the two Farfalle dancers immersed in a rigorous rehearsal schedule ahead of the first UAE performance.
“We are always adding new things, even if it’s not a new show,” he says.
“There is always a chance to optimise things.”
Considering the rave international reviews, it’s hard to imagine how a show described as “extraordinary” and “a sensual feast of colour, sound and movement” by the UK press can be tweaked even further towards perfection.
The one-hour performance, which Venturini says is perfect for children age 4 to 8 but can still be appreciated – and “very much enjoyed” – by both the young and the old, examines the magical metamorphosis of a butterfly, from tiny egg to wriggling larva to silvery chrysalis to fluttering, flitting maturity, complete with over-the-top butterfly wings.
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“We created Farfalle to present a relationship between nature and children and immerse them in the environment, and the idea was to let kids get in touch with nature in a different way,” says Venturini, who wanted to step away from traditional storytelling and theatre to find a way to immerse his audience into the performance; a key trait of Compagnia TPO. “I started this concept to change theatre from a frontal and passive experience into an active experience,” says Venturini.
“So I started to create shows with kids as protagonists themselves more than the dancers and actors.”
“By letting kids touch the ground of the stage, touch what is going on in front of them and actually be on stage interacting, they will care about what they are seeing and retain it,” he says.
At certain times throughout the performance, the two dancers that make up Farfalle will call on young audience members to take part. And although not everyone might get a chance to interact, a related, interactive playground set up just outside the venue is also open, with free access.
“We have all the children come to the playground after the show to live the experience, so no one is left out,” explains Venturini. “We want to cut out any language or cultural barriers, which is what you can do with art,” he says. “Through using technology creatively and intelligently, combined with art, we can do that. We can reach everybody with a performance like this. It can be a very powerful artistic approach to theatre and contemporary art, and it teaches children how to use body movement to communicate.”
Venturini says youngsters never get out of control or wreak havoc, but follow the flow of the performance.
“The dancers will be able to communicate the delicacy of the wings, and to be calm and respectful. They will teach the children how to use the space,” he says, adding that the experience is like art therapy for parents and children.
“Everyone will be barefoot, moving gently, touching each other, connected in a very sweet experience. We don’t want to confuse this kind of approach to a video game. It’s nothing like that. It’s simply art, for a new age.”
Farfalle starts on Thursday, at The Black Box in the Arts Centre at NYU Abu Dhabi. Tickets are Dh50 for children up to age 16 and Dh100 for adults. Visit www.nyuad-artscenter.org