License To Dream is a clash of two cultures

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License To DreamTheater review.

The exuberance of young performers carries this charming production through a story of the clash of different cultures and the finding of a path through conflict to mutual respect and support. In 1905, George M. Cohen wrote a song with the lines “Only 45 minutes from Broadway, but think of the changes it brings. For the short times it takes, what a difference it makes in the ways of the people and things…” The song referred to the difference in lifestyle and values between free and easy Broadway and prim, proper, suburban New Rochelle. 

Non "flying" in License To Dream

Nona “flying” in License To Dream

The essential idea – that vastly different cultures can exist almost side by side without ever “seeing” or understanding each other remains as true today as when the song was written. In “License To Dream,” a group of young people from the ghetto of East New York are brought to East Hampton for a summer session of dance camp. They are quartered in the carriage house of a great estate and their instructors are another group of young people – ones whose background and training is very different. The kids from East New York learned to dance on the street. They represent a vibrant, improvisational style that is at once athletic and aggressive. It is a style given contemporary form by rap and hip-hop but even if its performers are unaware of the fact, it is part of a break dancing tradition with New York roots as much as150 years old or more. 

These young people may or may not know the history of their art form but they are very well aware that it is a living expression of the culture of the community they are part of. These dancers are not merely presenting their work as a performance piece – they are the living embodiment of their culture. It is not just a style – it is their life.

The finale in License To_DreamThe young people hired as their instructors, on the other hand, are classically trained in ballet and modern dance. They are products of a world in which the audience is not a random crowd gathered on a street corner but polite ladies and gentleman, well dressed and having paid substantial sums for tickets to see performances that meticulously follow the precepts and techniques of an art form originating centuries ago in the courts of kings and supported today by the luminaries of high society. It is a rigidly demanding art form requiring absolute precision of execution as well as beauty and physical endurance.

The clash between the two groups is inevitable and immediate. How can they find their way through this jungle of differences to some common ground? Therein is the theme of this inspiring work. Dance is the ultimate non-verbal expression of the human condition and finding a way to express their common humanity is the challenge these young people must undertake to triumph over that which divides them and marks both groups as “other” in each member’s eyes.

The original music by David Truskinoff  carries an energetic production by the 11 dancers to a big finale that brought the packed audience to its feet with a huge ovation.
Stand-out performances by Cornelius Brown, Ty Evans and Matthew Sparks proved that if there is one thing young people from both sides of this cultural divide can do, it is dance their hearts out. This is a show that gives us all hope – something we need as much of as we can get.

License To Dream will run through June 5 at the Castillo Theater, 543, West 42nd Street, New York, 212-941-1234, www.castillo.org

 

License To DreamTheater review.

The exuberance of young performers carries this charming production through a story of the clash of different cultures and the finding of a path through conflict to mutual respect and support. In 1905, George M. Cohen wrote a song with the lines “Only 45 minutes from Broadway, but think of the changes it brings. For the short times it takes, what a difference it makes in the ways of the people and things…” The song referred to the difference in lifestyle and values between free and easy Broadway and prim, proper, suburban New Rochelle.