Having been totally blown away by the Scottish Ballet’s Nutcracker back in 2014, I was unsure what to expect from this year’s Hansel and Gretel. I had high hopes for another stunning performance, and the Scottish ballet company certainly brought it home in this depiction of the renowned German fairy-tale from the brothers Grimm.
Much more playful in its musical telling than that of the Nutcracker; the music of Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1891 opera is at the core of this portrayal of Hansel and Gretel. Artistic Director Christopher Hampson’s first ballet to be choreographed from scratch; every note is reflected beautifully in the graceful movements of the dancers. As a story which has so much contrast between light and dark, fun and deadly serious, Humperdinck’s composition easily echoes the essence of this rather Grimm fairy-tale. That said, I did not think it offered as much artistic expression to the dancers as Tchaikovsky’s compelling score for The Nutcracker.
Luckily there have been some notable adaptions made; we now see the children running away from their loving, if considerably flawed, parents and our hideous old witch (played by Araminta Wraith) is in fact the new school teacher who has been making the children of the town disappear with her cunning magic. Araminta’s performance was absolutely compelling (if more than a little creepy) and I was squirming in my seat more than once.
The whole production was, rather aptly, a feast for the eyes. Lavish costumes, luscious props and clever set design and lighting make for an enchanting walk through the woods – and the tensely anticipated discovery of the infamous gingerbread house delivers a sight to behold! I felt truly joyous for Hansel (Andrew Peasgood) and Gretel (Bethany Kingsely-Garner) as they stuffed every manner of goodies into their hungry faces (including Tunnocks Teacakes!) upon discovering the edible house. For this was not just the telling of a tale through beautiful music and choreography but the shared human experience of two little children. The acting was as important and well-executed as every on-pointe foot placement, and I felt as though I was right up there on stage with them.
It was a great idea to get kids onto the stage in this production (part of the Scottish Ballet’s Education scheme, headed by Catherine Cassidy) as it really brings home the fact that it is a children’s fairy-tale (more than a little hard to swallow when it’s about a children-eating old witch). Even better that it affords a remarkable opportunity to those children who have never been involved in dance before to work with a professional performance team.
I was wonderfully surprised by this not-so-favourite of mine fairy-tale, brought to life in vivid technicolour by Hampson and the Scottish Ballet company. The playfulness will appeal to adults and kids alike and the technically-savvy set design will have mouths watering – just make sure you get your dinner beforehand.
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