As a DJ spun throbbing hip-hop beats, throngs of limber adolescents danced with gleeful abandon at midday Tuesday in St. Paul’s Rice Park.
The young dancers Whipped and Nae-Naed. They did the Stanky Legg, the Cha-Cha Slide and the Cupid Shuffle. A few even showed off their moves onstage at the invitation of host Leah Nelson, spinning and popping to the music of Bruno Mars.
The movers, hailing from Minnesota and Wisconsin, were part of the 20,000 students attending this week’s school-only portion of the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival, which climaxes Saturday and Sunday with public shows and activities that will draw 50,000 more patrons to eight stages in and around Ordway Center.
The 17th annual festival features acts from Minnesota, other states and all over the globe — a massive effort showcasing world cultures even as it brings families together.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Ordway President Jamie Grant as he watched a flash-mob performance to the Black Eyed Peas by 400 students from nearby Creative Arts Secondary School. “Children having fun and learning from each other, adults smiling like giddy kids.”
The schedule truly is, as Grant called it, “a smorgasbord of fun.” There are more than 100 free outdoor shows as well as a bevy of ticketed indoor performances (the normal $8 admission is advisory; patrons may pay what they wish).
On a stage north of Landmark Center, a Bharatanatyam instructor on Tuesday gave some students from Wisconsin lessons in the mudras, or hand signals, of that ancient Indian temple dance. That interactive performance was followed by another one, this time by Born in a Taxi, a troupe from Melbourne, Australia.
Their show, which will be repeated several times this weekend, is called “The Whale’s Tale.” An eco-friendly piece that features an animatronic puppet whale made from recycled parachutes, it is performed by a trio that includes a scuba-outfitted Navigator (Penny Baron), a shark (Carolyn Hanna) and a dubious Dr. Walrus (Nick Papas).
The whale is not well, as you can see when the cast pulls things out of its mouth like an old corded telephone. The show has a subtle message: Things are not so ducky in his blubbery world.
The shows inside the Ordway and Landmark Center include productions by the Native Pride Dancers, who will do a traditional eagle dance as well as a fancy shawl dance. Twin Cities percussive dancers Flying Foot Forum are performing “The Mystery of Pig’s Eye Manor,” a promenade dance mystery that takes place in the corridors and lower levels of Landmark Center.
And at the Lowry Lab Theater, the Danish company Teater Refleksion performs “The Way Back Home,” an imaginative puppet work about fear and friendship.
One of the loudest indoor shows is put on by the GuGu Drum Group of Shanghai. Playing a range of instruments from big standing drums to teeny finger cymbals, the company uses percussion with flair to tell stories based around Chinese proverbs, fables and fairy tales. One is “The Wedding of the Mice,” about an annual activity rudely interrupted by a threatening feline, and a celebration of strong women after their men have gone to war. Music alone makes the stories vivid. But the GuGu drummers add drama as they play and dance in unison.
The festival includes an outdoor art walk in downtown St. Paul that showcases the creativity of young people. In the Ordway lobby, curator Gordon Coons, who is of Ojibwe/Ottawa ancestry, has selected works for a “Gathering of Contemporary Indigenous Artists.”
Carlondrea Hines, principal of Creative Arts Secondary School, hopes her students’ flash-mob performance will be the start of an ongoing relationship with the Ordway.
“Our students are learning and having a lot of fun,” she said.