Scottish Ballet present “a wee version of a big ballet”, a perfectly distilled version of their family favourite Hansel and Gretel, specifically aimed at children aged three to eight.
A dangerous (well, mildly perilous but age-appropriate) adventure into the deep dark wood with the inquisitive siblings – Wee Hansel and Gretel faithfully follows the traditional tale: there’s the worrisome witch, her mysterious raven companion, the magic forest and the enchanted gingerbread house.
The addition of a narrator (James Siggens) who presents a rhyming introduction to set the scene and explanation of the unfolding action, is a neat touch. He engages the audience from curtain up with a whole heap of audience participation, including magically controlling the lights, much to the amazement of the tiny theatre-goers.
Set to the music of Engelbert Humperdinck, recorded by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra, the production includes students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The tutu-clad trio provide the traditional costumes expected by the mini-ballet buffs, though these three tutus on stage are vastly outnumbered by the gloriously clad audience who are decked in their best ballet finery for the occasion. In the role of Hansel, Constant Vigier is, as always, a safe pair of ballet slippers and his Gretel, Alice Kawalek is a star in waiting.
This 50-minute tiny treasure of a production is small, but absolutely perfectly formed. The run time is ideal, the storytelling judiciously edited to fit in everything it needs to shine. It captures and keeps the attention for the entirety of the performance and provides a satisfying morning’s or afternoon’s entertainment for adults and children alike. More of this please!
The tour continues until October : Glasgow tomorrow (Sunday 14 July)
Christopher Hampson’s production, originally created for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, finally arrived in Glasgow this month after a European premiere and a festive stint in our capital city. Set to Prokofiev’s 1945 score and on Tracy Grant Lord’s grand set, it faithfully follows Charles Perrault’s much-loved, rags to riches story as we know it.
Whilst there is much to admire here, the complex choreography will delight ballet aficionados and the dancers largely deliver their roles with aplomb, the nearly two and half hour running time and the lack of visual ‘sparkle’ leaves it lacking that certain something that makes for a truly spectacular festive ballet treat, and the tiny audience members (of whom there were many) were wriggling and restless by the end.
Bethany Kingsley-Garner as the titular heroine is a divine dancer, but her fixed expression lacks the range of emotion the character requires. Christopher Harrison, usually a sure-footed and assured performer, suffered from some serious wobbles as the Prince and again the lack of emotion left one feeling cold. Most successful are Eve Mutso and Sophie Martin as the ‘wicked’ step-sisters, the pair are an absolute delight and their acting skills admirable (the company will feel the loss of Mutso greatly as she leaves to pursue a career as a freelance dancer/choreographer after this tour). This is a company with undoubtedly talented dancers, but one can’t help feel that they are lacking somewhat in the acting/emotion department.
Richard Honner and the Scottish Ballet Orchestra are on fine form and the sound throughout is sumptuous. This is a thoroughly entertaining production, with some real highlights but one can’t help feeling it could have been so much more.
As a signal of intent, Scottish Ballet has started their new season with a bang with a world and a UK premier in one evening.
Those seeking tutus and pointe shoes may be disappointed, but this thoroughly modern trio of works is a refreshing move towards the future.
Opening with the unbilled Maze by company member Sophie Laplane, the innovative, original and hypnotic work is an intriguing exploration of the forms a body in motion can take. The male duos bristle with jagged, spiky, angular jabs, the female duos popping, fizzing and crackling with electricity. This arresting and visually compelling work looks set to assure Laplane’s career long after she’s hung up her pointe shoes.
New York choreographer Bryan Arias’ Motion of Displacement is an emotional response to the choreographer’s mother’s experience of leaving her homeland in pursuit of a better life. It is more free-form poem than linear narrative and hints at both the strength and heartbreak experienced on Senora Arias’ journey. At times, it is stunningly beautiful – the chain of dancers at the start and end delicately intertwined is stunning, but for all the glorious individual sequences there is a lack of drive and emotionally it feels very similar throughout.
As the old adage says: “save the best for last”, multi-talented (Turner Prize nominated, West End Musical choreographing, Olivier and Critics Circle Award-winning, music videos and ballet creating with the Pet Shop Boys) Javier de Frutos’ Elsa Canasta is a witty and wonderful winner.
Combining the music of the legendary Cole Porter with de Frutos’ entertaining and inventive choreography, and fairy-dusted with the glorious singing of Nick Holder, this is a crowd-pleaser from start to end. As the vocalist reminisces on the heady days of the 20s and 30s, he reflects on the experiences he has lived through, the choices made and roads not travelled. Re-worked from his original piece for Rambert, the characters have been expanded by de Frutos and the balance of genders redefined.
There is so much to see here, glorious little sequences spring up all around the stage, it is sexy, sassy and a joy to watch. Particularly effective are the poignant and powerful male-male duet between Victor Zarallo and Thomas Edwards and the all-too-familiar boyfriend/girlfriend scuffle between the always entertaining Erik Cavallari and Sophie Martin.
As an opening to the new season – a crowd-pleasing triumph that leaves you wanting more.
Image credit: Andy Ross
Nick Holder and the dancers of Scottish Ballet in Javier de Frutos’ Elsa Canasta
In Hansel and Gretel, Christopher Hampson’s premier ballet since joining the company in 2012, Scottish Ballet has their first new work in six years. A sparkling little jewel of a show, even if it is, at times, a little too sanitized a version of the original Grimm fairy tale; there’s no wicked stepmother here, just two mischievous kids (Andrew Peasgood & Bethany Kingsley-Garner) with a sense of adventure, loved by their boozy, chain-smoking, slightly neglectful parents (the always stunning Eve Mutso and Erik Cavallari).
Set in an un-named town sometime in the 50’s/60’s, there are beehives, headscarves, winged specs and even a black leather-clad biker gang The Ravens, beautifully danced with precision by Daniel Davidson, Rimbaud Patron and Thomas Edwards. There’s also a glamorous dream sequence with mother and father transformed into Grace Kelly and Cary Grant à la To Catch a Thief. The piece also abounds with wonderful witty touches like the Scottish Mother’s Pride loaf used to create the famous breadcrumb trail.
Kingsley-Garner and Peasgood achieve the not easy feat of convincingly portraying the childish pair and do so with ease. Mutso, is as usual graceful and eye-catching (in the role of mother in this cast), Luciana Ravizzi as the Witch is amusing when transformed from ethereal being to old crone but somewhat expressionless (or rather fixed faced) in the earlier sequences and Victor Zarallo is suitably sinister as the sinuous Sandman.
Humperdinck’s music is easy on the ear in this cut and paste version from his opera of the same name, it is mixed in with snippets from his version of Sleeping Beauty, added to retain the flow of the narrative. The sets are enchantingly designed too with some nice Tim Burton-esque details. Hampson’s choreography is varied, original and highly watchable and showcases his company well. If any criticism were to be levelled at the whole endeavor then, for a Christmas ballet, it is a little lacking in the all-out glitz ensemble pieces, usually worked in to enchant the younger members of the audience, that said, there is plenty of sparkle, a lot of laughs and there’s no more enjoyable or magical way to spend the pre-Christmas period. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket while you can.
This Wednesday (18th December) Scottish Ballet are broadcasting a live webcast.
Broadcasting live from Theatre Royal Glasgow where the dancers will be warming up on stage for a performance of Hansel & Gretel. You will be taken into the wings and behind the curtain to take a look at the extensive and eccentric props used and hear artistic director and choreographer of the work, Christopher Hampson and the dancers talk about what the creation of this world premiere has been like.
The webcast will stream at 4.30pm on Wed 18 Dec and as always, you’ll be able to send in your questions for Christopher and the team to be answered during the webcast. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them to us @scottishballet with the hashtag #SB_Webcast.
An evening of stark contrast marks the start of Scottish Ballet’s Autumn/Winter season. Opening the bill The Rite of Spring, Christopher Hampton’s attempt to breathe new life into the now infamous ballet set to Igor Stravinsky’s ground-breaking score. Vaslav Nijinsky and Stravinsky’s work, now regarded as one of the most important works in the history of ballet, was a revolutionary work created in a revolutionary artistic time. Its tale of ritual sacrifice met with a critical mauling resulting in the now legendary ‘Riot at The Rite’ at its notorious premier in Paris 100 years ago.
Hampson pares the work down to just three dancers, two male and one female. The curtain opening on stark, white, high-sided, semi-circular walls, which claustrophobically enclose the dancers, we then bear witness to scenes of ritual violence, dominance and devotion played out between two brothers (Christopher Harrison and Constant Vigier) culminating in the curtain falling on the younger sibling broken, both physically and mentally, crumpled on the floor.
The curtain rises again as the elder brother enters, clad in army fatigues, clutching the tools of interrogation, a stool and a black hood. The white walls now most definitely the walls of a prison cell, the domination begins again, this time more intense, more brutal. The female dancer, in the first half a taunting presence, appears more menacing in the second, offering the younger brother his only escape from this unbearable torment – death. Vigier dances exhileratingly with power and passion bringing this short, sharp work to it’s savage and shocking end.
Though still gripping and intense and retaining some of the primal energy of the original, it is hard to say whether time or this particular staging have robbed the piece of its brutal power. The quality of the dancers is in no doubt, particularly Vigier and Harrison, and Hampson is a choreographer of sublime quality, the audience too remain intrigued throughout, but the decision to set the piece in no particular time or specific location somehow robs the narrative of clarity and one can’t help feeling that it is not the dance but Stravinsky’s exhilarating score that has always been the real star of The Rite of Spring.
The second half of Scottish Ballet’s evening of contrasts is Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s much-loved Ragtime romp Elite Syncopations, the joyous celebration of the depression era dance marathon. Influenced by silent movie era slapstick and the popular dances of the era, the Charleston and Cakewalk, MacMillan’s witty choreography allows each dancer to showcase themselves at their most exuberant, expressive and eccentric, as they pose, preen and prance to the jazz time beat in front of their bitter dance rivals.
The costumes and staging are as much a character as the dancers in this work: the band clad in comedic creations and the dancers in Ian Spurling’s cheeky, lycra bodysuits perfectly enhancing the playfulness of the work. The characters are drawn large in this work and it is to Hampson’s credit that they remain sharp and retain their technique, never descending into cheap caricature.
The principals are unwaveringly excellent, in particular Eve Mutso, a dancer of supreme grace and technique, who uses her height to advantage in the always comic “Alaskan Rag” with Jamiel Laurence her rather more vertically challenged partner. The two are well cast in this hysterical show stopper. Sophie Martin’s precise technique is showcased to perfection in the “Stop Time Rag” and the always watchable Bethany Kingsley-Garner gets to show off her playful side in the effervescent “Calliope Rag”.
If any criticism is to be levelled at the work it is with the music. Whilst there is no doubt that the jazzy soundtrack has a peppy and infectious verve, it is all rather similar in tone and character, the whole enterprise becoming a tad one-note, this, in turn then carries over into the choreography. It is however redeemed by the fact that the piece is so short and so enjoyable despite its minor faults that one is ultimately left begging for more.
An effervescent, energetic, exuberant and thoroughly enjoyable evening at the ballet.
Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll is not the usual tag line for a Scottish Ballet production but Matthew Bourne could never be accused of being your usual choreographer and Scottish Ballet continue to cement their reputation as a company with a clear artistic vision, breaking new ground by introducing innovative modern works alongside their vast classical repertoire.
This piece marks the first time Matthew Bourne has ever allowed another company to perform one of his works, such is his control over his artistic vision. That said, the two seemed destined to come together, Bourne’s Glasgow-set ballet finally coming home to the city and Scotland’s national ballet company.
Inspired by the classic romantic work La Sylphide, Highland Fling is an imaginative re-working by Bourne with his usual wry twist and trademark eye for detail.
Highland Fling follows the story of James, a restless young Glaswegian recently married to his devoted girlfriend Effie, but James’ addiction to excess and desire to break free of the restrictions and expectations placed on him by his environment finds him in the fateful company of a beguiling gothic fairy. As his love for the strange and beautiful sylph becomes an obsession, he embarks on a fateful journey that takes him from the mean streets and nightclubs of Glasgow into a magical world beyond reality and reason.
As our (anti)hero staggers on-set and slumps to the floor against a urinal in the toilet of a Glasgow nightclub we are in no doubt that this isn’t going to be your usual ballet, but what really sets it apart, along with all of Bourne’s work, is the stunning complexity and intricacy of the choreography and the sharpness and accuracy with which it is executed. Owen Thorne’s performance as James is testament to Bourne’s particular method of working: this is a character with a history, a back-story and Thorne manages to deliver the choreography whilst perfectly conveying the conflicted Glaswegian tough-guy persona underneath. Bethany Kingsley-Garner as the sylph is utterly other-wordly, beautifully conveying this bewitching creature from another realm. Both are ably supported by an ensemble of characters instantly recognisable to any city dweller.
Lez Brotherston’s set design is a character in itself. It has more tartan than a tin of shortbread, delivering a technicolour assault to the senses, but looking beyond the obvious, witty nods to the best and worst of Caledonia abound. Brotherston also manages to perfectly evoke the eerie world of the sylphs nestled amongst the debris and detritus of a wasteland in the shadow of the Glasgow highrises.
Part of the beauty of this cautionary tale is its brevity, at just over 95 minutes it packs a visual and emotional punch that leaves you reeling and begging for more.
This is one of Scottish Ballet’s attempts to attract a new audience through its doors – what the old guard make of it remains to be seen, but this arresting tale, beautifully told, deserves to be seen. I urge you not to miss it.