Peacock Theatre, London
April 14, 2023
Attending a performance by London Children’s Ballet is something special. The auditorium is usually packed, the age of the demographic is younger and there is the warmth of gleeful expectation. At a time when so many young people are struggling with depression and mental health the chance to dance is invaluable. It’s more than just the thrill of performing, it’s the weeks of creation and rehearsal in the company of those with the same passion for dance that will build life-time memories. Some of the cohort of 9-16-year-old dancers will go on to be professionals (LCB already has a good track-record in this regard) but the benefits will be experienced by all.
Snow White, choreography by Gavin McCaig from Northern Ballet with commissioned music by Richard Norris is a treat. On what I imagine is a limited budget, the costumes and sets are colourful, simple and very effective and having live music is a joy both for the performers and audience.
The story is cleverly updated. The pesky dwarves are discarded and replaced by a delightful family of six slightly bohemian forest dwellers, the Huntspeople. Lacking number seven gives the opportunity for a lost son – kidnapped, brought up in the palace, falling in love with Snow White – and a very happy ending.
McCaig’s choreography adapts the ballet steps to suit the circumstances and ages. The snowy scenes present a variety, the smallest flutter sweetly while the bigger snowflakes whirl and leap with balletic grace. The court is decorous but out in the forest there is a little more freedom to explore and McCaig has some fun inventing steps for the Huntspeople. The commitment and care the dancers showed was beautiful to watch. The standard was variable but, on the whole, most impressive.
Giulietta Aitken made a charming younger Snow White, while 14-year-old Scarlett Monahan, as the older princess, had the lion’s share. She took the stage with mature presence, a strong technique and a lively personality. John Holden as Robert, the Queen’s Huntsman and elusive seventh member of the Huntspeople family glows with sincerity. He fought the good fight and ensured the happy ending. The family in the forest, a diverse mix of multi-talented dancers brimming with personality, made these scenes some of the liveliest and best in the show.
Every fairy-tale must have a baddie and this ballet has two. The Evil Queen, Harriet Mears and side kick The Raven, Fred Sweetman, who delighted in causing mayhem. Mears was a force to deal with both in the court and in her private room facing that infamous magic mirror. They had some of the most exciting choreography and made the most of it. Other highlights were a commanding King, Taylor Ticehurst, an animated Jester, Fyfe Skinner plus acrobats and, in Lily Routledge, a radiant Dove with a glorious jeté.
Credit also to artistic director, Ruth Brill and to the excellent repetiteurs and organisers in getting the production to a professional level. London is fortunate in having access to a wealth of arts, and I wish every town could have such a Children’s Ballet.
Read also David Mead’s conversation about the ballet with choreographer Gavin McCaig and dancers Scarlett Monahan and John Holden; and his talk with artistic director Ruth Brill about the company, its fabulous new permanent home and ethos.