‘The Other Side’ at KenCen turns a kids’ book into uplift

The five young dancers electrify the stage. It is impossible not to feel called to join in their fun and games.

It’s not often you see a children’s book transformed into a contemporary dance piece, but that’s exactly what Choreographer Hope Boykin has done with The Other Side written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E. B. Lewis. The result for the Family Theater audience at Kennedy Center is an intriguing and uplifting experience.

The Other Side defies categorization. The work feels like a modern dance performance, but there are bits of dialogue. It is not a play, but there is narration by a youthful voice (Lay’la K. Rogers).

Tanasia Lane as Clover and Daisy Denicore as Annie Paul in ‘The Other Side.’ Photo by Jati Lindsay.

The story centers on two young girls, Clover (Dejah Poole) and Annie Paul (Tara Bellardini), who live on opposite sides of a fence, the focal point of Joseph Gaito’s set design. Both have mothers who have warned them not to go to the other side, and the girls, the epitome of innocence and naivete, do not understand why. The reason is implied: Clover is Black and Annie Paul is white, and they live in a segregated community.

We as audience members are asked to glean some of the narrative details by interpreting the unique, rhythmic, gorgeous movements of the dancers. Some of the choreography is literal, where the dancers are playing hand-clapping games or skipping rope, but much of it is abstract, which was entrancing to watch but may have gone over the heads of the youngest audience members. The program says The Other Side is recommended for ages five and up, but I’d say eight and up is a more appropriate age to enjoy and appreciate this show.

The technique of all five dancers is strong, and the ensemble dancers — Kendall Dennis, Deirdre Dunkin, and Cameron Harris — provide laughs as their sass radiates strongly from the stage. There are movement motifs that recur throughout the show, and I suspect some young audience members might attempt to replicate them in their living rooms when they return home, or perhaps on their way to the parking lot.

Riché Williams, Nateisha Reaves, and Jordin Green as the ensemble dancers in ‘The Other Side.’ Photo by Jati Lindsay.

The music, an original score by Ali Jackson, is a mixture of instrumentals and rhythmic beats and allows the dancing to remain the focus. Boykin is a dancer and choreographer with Alvin Ailey, along with Philadanco and her own Hope Boykin Dance, and there are many beautiful jumps, turns, contractions, and hand motions synonymous with this distinctive, precise, and exuberant dance style.

Daisy Denicore, Tanasia Lane, Nateisha Reaves, Riché Williams, and Jordin Green in ‘The Other Side.’ Photo by Jati Lindsay.

The Other Side comes especially alive when Clover and her friends eventually (after some disagreement on whether or not to) allow Annie to come join them. The five young women electrify the stage as they dance together; it is impossible not to feel called to join in on their fun and games. And that, perhaps, is a part of the message of The Other Side: we are all better when we find ways to come together and learn from one another.

Running Time: 45 minutes, no intermission.

Most enjoyed by ages 5+.

The Other Side plays through April 30, 2022, at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater – 2700 F St. NW in Washington, DC. For tickets ($20), call the box office at 202-467-4600, or purchase them online.

The program for The Other Side is online here.

Original illustration by E. B. Lewis for the children’s book ‘The Other Side.’

COVID Safety: Proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 and a valid photo ID are required to attend all indoor performances and events at the Kennedy Center. Children under age 12 who are vaccinated can show proof of vaccination for entry without a photo ID when accompanied by an adult. Masks are required for all patrons over age 2 regardless of vaccination status. See the Kennedy Center’s complete Vaccination and Mask Policy here.

Lighting Design by Al Crawford; Assistant Choreography by Amina Lydia Vargas; Costume Design by Mark Eric.


  1. The original illustrations–by the masterful E.B. Lewis–give the story its visual heart and feeling. He should really be credited for the watercolor (of the girl swinging on a tire) used above.


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