balletLORENT in The Velveteen Rabbit

Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells
April 6, 2024

An audience comprised of the youngest theatre goers, is a very different playing experience, and companies that perform for this age group seem to fall into two categories. They either condescend, treating the young audience as a collective six-month-old, with little cognitive ability; or they perform as they would to any age of audience, giving the characters personality and relevance, whether it be Romeo and Juliet or a soft toy rabbit. balletLORENT definitely falls into the latter category.

Of course, a young audience is never completely quiet. I took my grandchildren, five and eight-years old respectively. We had a mum sitting behind us giving a running commentary to her younger son, and my grandson, picking-up on the cue, was relaying this information to the child sitting next to him! balletLORENT clearly understand this happens, the production enveloping the audience chatter into the performance.

The Velveteen Rabbit by balletLORENT
Photo Luke Waddington

The Velveteen Rabbit, written by Margery Williams, and first published in 1921 in Harper’s Bazaar, is the story of a much-loved toy rabbit, and how he becomes real. The ballet, directed and choreographed by Liv Lorent, stays with the book throughout, very important when performing for a young audience.

The story is told by an unseen narrator, Ben Crompton, as it unfolds on stage. The choreography is simple, clear, and never tries to be too clever. The toys step out of the book in front of our eyes, delighting the audience, and keeping them enraptured. The dancers are perfect in their roles, bringing just the right amount of emotion, without falling into kitsch.

The set, (and costumes, both created by Nasir Mazhar), is lifted from the book and works really well, opening-up levels and unexpected spaces for the dancers to use, which supports the visual interest for a generation used to scene changes every minute or so.

The length of the ballet at 50 minutes is well judged. Only the last dance, when the Velveteen Rabbit has become real, feels it might benefit from being slightly shorter, the audience knowing full well that the story has ended.

Afterwards, the children were invited onto the stage to meet the toys, and ‘feed’ the rabbits, which they did with delight, recycling over and again the baskets of knitted carrots. The comment my grandchildren left with: “That was great!” balletLORENT couldn’t ask for more.