Perhaps it’s only when you sit in on rehearsal that you truly appreciate a dancer, especially a ballet dancer. Prior to their visit to Belfast, I was fortunate enough to be invited to spend a day with Scottish Ballet when they were presenting their show Hansel and Gretel to audiences in Edinburgh.
They were dancing a matinee and an evening performance that day but regardless of this, at eleven in the morning they had already completed half of their 90 minute exercise class. 36 young lithe men and women standing at three barres, carrying out the instructions of their artistic director and choreographer Christopher Hampson – tendu devent, demi plie,, arabesque just some of the terms I caught. Then each barre was taken away and the stage was filled with wave after wave of dancers going through set routines working to the music of the rehearsal pianist. All this happens every working day just to keep the body warmed up and subtle. Then, during the afternoon we saw all these steps incorporated into the magic that is ballet.
Hansel and Gretel is a well known folk story by the Brothers Grimm, a dark tale of a brother and sister who run away, deep into the forest intent on finding their school friends who have mysteriously vanished from the village. Who could have spirited the children away? What tragedy could have befallen them? And so, step by step, the mystery unfolds as you will see at Belfast Grand Opera House from 5th February until Saturday 8th February.
The set is ingenious, one minute the children’s home, the next the forest and eventually, by some stage magic, inside the Gingerbread House where the less traditional but most entertaining dancing takes place.
Remember the story? The witch who fattens up children with cakes and candy only to put them in the oven to bake and then eat?
This ballet runs for about two hours with one interval and it’s a delight for both children and adults, visually captivating with dancing of the highest quality.
In the first part of the show we see the little children with their teacher, a seemingly nice woman who keeps giving them sweets but one by one the children disappear until only the brother and sister are left.
Perhaps their venture through the enchanted wood is a little long and drawn out but when an apparently gentle and beautiful fairy comes swinging down from the moon, things begin to happen.
Although the second half is full of vigor and excellent dancing it is more comedy than tragedy and when the bad witch, really the school teacher, pulls Hansel’s teddy head off I felt we should have booed and hissed. And when they tumbled her into the oven we should have applauded and perhaps in Belfast this will happen, certainly the company are looking forward to their visit and credit the Northern Ireland audiences as being the most receptive and vocal, so don’t hold back!
There are some lovely little cameo moments – the Dew Drop Fairy and the Ravens, the Rag Dolls, and of course The Witch whose cannibalistic tendencies are pretty scary in a comedic sort of way. On opening night In Belfast, this role will be danced by soloist Eve Mutso, a real treat as she delights in being a bad, very sharp axe wielding witch.
‘Wasn’t that lovely?’ seemed to be the opinion of the audience, including many school children, at the end of the show. The witch had been roasted in her own steaming oven, the children had came back from the dead and all the mums and dads were there to hug them and everyone lived happily ever after. Very satisfying.
The ballet benefits greatly from the Scottish Ballet Orchestra under the baton of principal conductor Richard Honner; they excel playing the the music of the German composer Engelbert Humperdinck.
Scottish Ballet HANSEL AND GRETEL
Opening Belfast Opera House
Wednesday 5th February 2014
More details at goh.co.uk