Dressed in joyously colorful costumes, members of the young dance troupe Ballet Folklorico de Maria Diaz have performed traditional Mexican dances at weddings, private events and festivals such as Brat Fest, AtwoodFest and Monona Terrace’s Lakeside Kids.
But Oct. 14 will be the group’s first appearance at Kids in the Rotunda, the Overture Center’s series of free, family-friendly performances that take place most Saturdays from October to April.
“The audience is really going to have fun,” said the group’s director, Maria Diaz, who worked as a professional dancer for 25 years, touring Europe.
“We have grown a lot. We’ve got new dances. We try to give it 110 percent for all the audiences we have.”
Diaz founded Ballet Folklorico de Maria Diaz five years ago after two girls asked her to teach them a traditional dance for an event. Today, some 15 girls ages 6-16 are part of the troupe. Diaz volunteers her time for three lengthy practices a week, plus performances, and counts on parents and donations to help pay for the dancers’ costumes, which often are specially made or brought from Mexico.
“As a professional dancer, I enjoyed it so much and I learned so much from it,” Diaz said. “I want to show these young ladies the stuff that I learned. They are really dedicated.”
Ballet Folklorico de Maria Diaz will be featured on the second week of the 2017-18 Kids in the Rotunda series. The season kicks off Oct. 7 with Dancing Drum, an interactive drumming group, and continues through April 28, when Chicago-based singer-songwriter Laura Doherty takes the stage.
In between, audiences will be treated to a variety of acts, from juggling and family-friendly improv comedy to magic shows, ballet demonstrations, live exotic animals and lots of music. Puppeteer Jeannie McQueenie of Chicago will make her first Kids in the Rotunda performance with a show on March 10. Storytellers Sparky & Rhonda Rucker will be coming from Tennessee Oct. 28 for their first KIR appearance in several years; the duo’s blend of history, music and theater has been featured on public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Mountain Stage.”
“We like to highlight local talent, and we also like to bring in talent that families wouldn’t have an opportunity to otherwise see,” said Alanna Medearis, director of education and community development for Overture. “Kids in the Rotunda is a really great introduction for families to the arts.”
Each Kids in the Rotunda show has a toddler-friendly run time – about 45 minutes – and is selected to engage the preschool and school-age set. Shows are repeated three times on Saturdays: at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and the last shows of the day are sign-language interpreted. Admission is free.
Performances are held on the cheery Rotunda stage in the lower level of Overture Center, 201 State St., with seating on carpeted steps and in a few rows of chairs. The seats fill up quickly, so arrive early or find yourself part of the standing-room-only crowd.
Two shows this year deviate from the Saturday routine. Mad Science will present zany (but educational) science experiments at 3 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Oct. 25. The Cash Box Kings will bring their rockin’ blues to the Rotunda stage on Nov. 24, as part of Madison’s Downtown Madison Holiday Open House the day after Thanksgiving. The Trinity Irish Dance performance on March 24 will be held in the Overture Hall lobby to accommodate the extra-large audience that’s expected.
All ages are welcome, though KIR’s target audience is ages 2-9. Children a bit older might especially enjoy Sparky & Rhonda Rucker (Oct. 28), The Disclosures (Dec. 2) and Limanya Drum and Dance Ensemble (March 17), Medearis said.
KIR’s 2016-17 season drew an estimated 33,809 visitors, she said. Morning shows tend to draw the biggest (and youngest) crowds. “If you have any qualms about big crowds, we suggest the 1 p.m. shows,” she said.
The Kids in the Rotunda Facebook page offers more tips for newcomers to KIR. Both it and the KIR website at www.overture.org/programs/kids-in-the-rotunda list other special events, too, such as the free, half-hour family yoga classes held between shows by the Tommy Ensemble on Oct. 21, and activities with the Wisconsin Science Festival, Madison Public Library, and Wisconsin Book Festival offered to audiences between performances of the live-animal show Zoozort on Nov. 4.