Tuesday 28 January 2014

Hansel and Gretel, The Royal Ballet (choreographed by Liam Scarlett)

Walking down in to the Linbury Studio the audience was transported to the 1950s. The stage sitting in the middle of the seats, some of us practically walked across the set to get to our seats. This was one of the great things about this production – being so close to the dancers, walking around the props, it all contributed to making this a truly immersive experience.

Leanne Cope and James Hay brought a real sense of innocence to the roles of Hansel and Gretel. Particularly with Hay the naivety of the character really poured out. They had some very sweet pas de deux, and some very convincing acting made the drama all the more intense. The utter terror portrayed later in the evening was palpable. Laura Morera made a wonderful, confident step-mother, oozing anger, sexuality, and dominance. Donald Thom as the Sandman was probably the most disturbing of the characters. Brilliantly danced, I’ll be having flashbacks of his performance for quite some time.

This is probably one of the darkest, most disturbing ballets I’ve seen. The set design, music (which was reminiscent of scores from Hitchcock films), and lighting all worked together perfectly to create a claustrophobic atmosphere where you really felt Hansel and Gretel were trapped. As they descended in to the witch’s house, hoping for safety, it was horrifying to see how very wrong it went for them. Ryoichi Hirano can’t be faulted for his portrayal of the disturbed witch. It felt like the most developed, psychologically complex role. He reduced Hansel and Gretel to nervous wrecks, and his assault on them was difficult to watch. Tipping a bin full of soft toys over Hansel a grim allusion to previous victims. A moment of brilliance of set design was evident when Hansel and Gretel were trapped downstairs, desperately trying to escape, to get the attention of their father and step-mother who were on the upper level with the Sandman and Witch. 

Surely the most captivating ballet I’ve seen since Sweet Violets (which just so happens to be choreographed by the same very talented Liam Scarlett). I can’t praise this enough. All the dancers were on top form, and it was a real treat to see them performing up close. Stripped back music with rests to emphasise the fast breathing of the dancers, eerie lighting, a technically impressive set, and some really brilliantly thought out choreography, this is a real treat (if you’re feeling brave). I want to see this again and again.

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