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Dancer Tim Latte Gives A Perception-Changing Performance At SHS



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Dancer Tim Latte Gives A Perception-Changing Performance At SHS

By Martha Coville

Dancer Tim Latta recently performed his show “Motion 360” at Sandy Hook School cafeteria. He plugged his iPod into a pair of speakers he had set up on a table off to the side. The only props he carried in were his dancer’s shoes and a few other tools of the trade.

Nothing in the simplicity of his presentation prepared the audience for his joyful athletic dance. Nothing in the complexity of his dance prepared the delighted kindergarten and first grade students for the simplicity of his radical message. In his “Motion 360” program, a minimalist background gave force to a vigorous, technically astounding performance. And the performance gave voice to a simple, perception-shattering idea.

Before he began his last dance, Mr Latta explained he ran into trouble one morning when he was trying to rehearse a dance he wanted to perform on a set of stilts.

“Here’s the problem,” he said. “I share a studio [with another dance company], and one day, the other dance company thought it would be really funny to hide one of my stilts. So I decided to make a dance with one stilt.”

Soon he was a pirate, a red bandana around his head, with one foot strapped into a stilt, and the second, sock-clad foot, held out for balance. Then he was a swashbuckling sword fighter, thrusting and parrying with an imaginary sword. He was dancing a pirate jig, jumping from the floor, and returning back down just as quickly. His two legs, the one on a stilt, the other three feet from the floor, moved together. The delighted students began clapping, spontaneously, in time to the music.

Then the one-stilted Mr Latta became a break dancer, his hands on the floor. Sheer upper body strength propelled him. He pushed his legs up in one-handed handstands. He put his shoulder and foot to the floor, balancing his weight on those two single points, and propelled himself in circles.

The music was not hip-hop; it was an upbeat classical tune, familiar to his audience from Saturday morning cartoons. But his moves were genuine hip-hop.

A Different Way To Get To The Same Answer

Mr Latta said tackling the choreography of his one-stilted dance was not difficult. “I get ideas from all the things around me,” he said. He shared his secret with the audience. “If you’re stuck,” he said, “look for a different way to get to the same answer.”

Planning a dance on a single stilt, he said, was no different from rewriting a math problem. “What’s two plus two?” he asked the young audience. “Four!” they cried out. “What’s eight divided by two?” he asked again. “Four!” they said in unison. “What’s the square root of 16?” he asked. “Four!” they answered again, eager to show off their math skills.

But they also understood what Mr Latta was driving at: If there are different ways to reach the same answer, then, said Mr Latta, “Things are not always what they seem. That’s why we have to explore. See, I really believe that if we can learn to look at the world in different ways, we can really look at ourselves and others in different ways.”

How did he propose students look at the world, at themselves in different ways? Mr Latta gave an example: You can use your imagination.

“You can become a bird up in the sky, or, I don’t know, someone you’d never dream of being, in a place you’d never dream of going.”

And then, cueing up music from his iPod, he was a bird. He snapped the plastic closures on a pair of roller skates shut, and began to skate in counterclockwise circles, as effortlessly as an eagle gliding in the wing. He opened a brown paper parasol and pulled against it for balance. Still in rollerblades, he became airborne, vaulting himself on a tall black pole. He flew and landed with astonishing grace and precision.

“Masks can be a vehicle, too,” Mr Latta said. “Masks can be a vehicle to change your attitude. If you’re sad, put on a happy mask. But what if you’re really old?”

The children giggled at this question, and watched carefully as he put on a round shaped mask, covering his whole head. He looked almost like the Yoda character from Star Wars. This was his Buddha Baby mask, he said later. He sat on the floor, and began to watch himself move his hands and arms very slowly. He was like an wizened man, suddenly given a toddler’s range of motion, and delight in movement. Slow Eastern music set the beat.

The students were doubtful at first. Some of the kindergarteners whispered “That’s scary.” But the music picked up, and soon Mr Latta was on his shoulders, rotating in a sort of half summersault. Then the music changed. Suddenly, Britney Spears’ second hit, “I’m Not That Innocent,” blared out, and Mr Latta was up on his feet. For a few measures he was performing, step by step, the same hip-shaking shimmy Spears did in her music video for the song.

“I Never Knew

It Could Be Dance”

After the show, The Bee joined third grader Jillian Chanko to interview Mr Latta. Jillian writes for Sandy Hook School’s student newspaper, The Footprint Press.

Mr Latta said he mixed Brittney Spears’s pop music into the “Baby Buddha” dance because it is “kind of a long and dramatic show. I thought what would be completely different, that would pull us out of this kind of eastern thing, and what’s more different than Britney Spears?”

He said he became a dancer in round about way.

“I started off more in more general theater,” he said. “I got into lighting design. I was a technical director for a dance school in California. I was on the staff there, do I got to take classes for free. I performed for the staff there, and they accepted my dance for my master’s degree in fine arts.”

Sheer coincident propelled him into a career in dance. “The only dance company I’ve every been passionate about was Pilobolus,” Mr Latta said. “The first time I saw them,” he said, “in college, in Minnesota, I came out of the theater and just started running and climbing trees. I had so much energy and I said that’s what I want to do, but I had no idea it was even possible. It didn’t seem like dance to me. It seemed more like lifting and balancing, you know, all the things I’d always been interested in, but I never knew could be dance.”

Pilobolus held an audition the week after Mr Latta earned his MFA, and he earned a place in the company. Altogether, he told Jillian, “I’ve been dancing for 35 years.” For about the last 19 years, he said, he has been producing and performing his own shows in schools, “although everything I’ve done has always been family accessible.”

His performances take him all over the world. “I travel all over the world. I’ve been to Italy, France, Singapore, Australia,” he said, “but it’s mostly in Connecticut and New York State.”

Encouraging audiences to examine their world, and then themselves, in different ways is “always the focus of the show,” he said. “Even when I do it for adults. The message really came about with my wife and I because of all the violence we saw in schools.” Mr Latta referred to notorious incidences, like the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, and to everyday incidences across the country. “I said, ‘There’s got to be some way we can do something about this,’” he said.

“I was really saying the show was for high schools and middle schools. The message is so important at that age.”

But Mr Latta said he also enjoys performing for younger audiences. “I hope you had fun today,” he told the audience, just before they left. “And I hope you go out and explore the world.”

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