Be the frog, know the frog

Posted: Thursday, April 01, 2004

For the exhilarating frog ballet scene in "L'enfant," opera choreographer Janice Hurley turned to a literal source of inspiration. She drove to the Wee Fishie Shoppe near Nugget Mall and sat in front of a tank of fire-bellied toads for 45 minutes.

"We all think we know how amphibians and frogs can move, but if you really take time to observe them it's extremely interesting," Hurley said. "Things you assume they can do, because you've grown up with Kermit the Frog, they can't necessarily do. Of course, we took license with that. We tried to work with the body of the frog, and how we would shape our body like that."

Hurley has been choreographing for 30 years. She danced with Jacksonville Dance, in Jacksonville, Fla., in the 1970s, and The Company in Cleveland in the 1980s. She's taught children's and master's classes in ballet theater and moved to Juneau during Labor Day weekend 1997.

"I hope the audience can appreciate how much energy and physical stamina it takes to be able to sing and dance live at the same time," Hurley said. "We did work very hard to find the strong points of each dancer and each character, so we could use movements that would enhance their singing rather than taking their breath away. Some of that was trial and error: a movement would look wonderful, but that person couldn't hit their high notes."

Hurley studied a family of squirrels in her backyard and rented films of dragonflies from the library. She was familiar with Ravel's history, but not all his work. Joyce Parry Moore gave her a script and a copy of the compact disc, and the two set to work on choreographing. Some characters, like tenor Brett Crawford (a frog, and a grandfather clock), developed their roles from basic suggestions. Crawford's clock is rigid and brilliantly hyperactive, as if it has a broken gear.

"We had a note when we were rehearsing Monday night that even though you're all using a human voice and you're all human beings, make sure that the qualities of your animals are still showing through," Hurley said. Make sure that you're still frogs and squirrels. We want the varied movements of the animals to be there. We weren't really trying for literalism, but we did draw on the actual animals."

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