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Dance turns poetry into visual art

CHESAPEAKE — Take one quirky children’s book of poems; add an athletic and effervescent modern dance troupe; stir in the giggles and wonder of wide-eyed youngsters. The result: the finale for the Briggs Library’s summer reading series for children.

Tuesday afternoon the Jeslyn Performing Arts Center took on the challenge of presenting Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” showing the amalgam of the art forms the library has presented throughout the season to the preschool and elementary readers in the county.

From the agility of modern dance to the visual artistry of props to the drama of pantomime, along with music, the dancers, under the direction of Jessica Fox, brought the poems from Silverstein’s first published book to life.

“We’re going to use our bodies to talk to you,” Fox said to the audience at the Chesapeake branch of the library. “We are going to be very loud and very silly. Please react as long as you are listening.”

Silverstein’s book was a childhood favorite of Fox, who founded the performing arts center based in Huntington, W.Va. It was Fox who created the choreography for the afternoon.

“I revisited (the book) as an adult and it has a great message for all,” Fox said. “It takes life lessons and presented them in way that is easy to understand.”

Joining Fox were colleagues, Meghan Salter, Summer Ogg, Amanda Smith and Anna Stewart.

The Chicago-born Silverstein was in his 40s when the book was published in 1974 to rave reviews for its offbeat look at childhood. The book is often used in classrooms to introduce children to poetry.