Bristol Hippodrome

 

Swan Lake My First Ballet - May 2015

 

Every ballet should have one – a narrator.

As a birthday treat I took two excited seven-year-olds and a six-year-old to see the English National Ballet and English National Ballet School presentation of My First Ballet: Swan Lake at the Bristol Hippodrome on Saturday morning.

The touring troupe were booked for several performances during the weekend and it was billed as the perfect introduction to the magic of ballet for children aged from three upwards.

The auditorium was packed to the rafters when we arrived with parents and their offspring many colourfully dressed in frilly ballet tutus or wearing fancy dress – the children not the grown-ups.

Although mostly made up of  little princesses waving illuminated wands and sparkling crowns I spotted some young boys and a small spider man in the audience!

Initially the chattering was deafening and it would be unfair to claim you couldn’t hear a pin drop moments after the curtain went up but it was definitely much quieter as row upon row of small children gazed in wonderment at the live performance.

Now I just about know my arabesque from a pirouette but I really thought the principle swan died in the story not the baddie and I certainly wouldn’t have interpreted all the mime gestures without the brilliant narrator explaining to me exactly what was happening.

But the children knew the story from Disney cartoons and ‘knew’ otherwise.

They were enchanted by dancers some of whom were still at ballet school.

The actual dance was traditional – not a hint of a contemporary Matthew Bourne twist here – but it was pitched perfectly for its target audience.

Although it was without the soaring jumps of say a polished principle dancer this went completely over the heads of the children metaphorically speaking!

They loved the theatre - two going for the first time - and admitted afterwards they thought they were going to the cinema to see Swan Lake on film.

Their delight knew no bounds and during the break they were talking to the adults in the rows in front and behind us with such enthusiasm it made my heart swell.

A ballet for all ages with the spoken word at one hour 20 minutes long including an interval this was just about right length for pre-school and primary-aged children.

Ours learned a new word ‘abridged’ which they thought was funny and the birthday girl announced at the end that this was her ‘best ever’ treat.

My First Ballet shows are part of a series and follow the success of My First Cinderella, My First Sleeping Beauty and My First Ballet Coppelia.

This fourth classical ballet recreated especially for children and set to Tchaikovsky’s wonderful music has its sets - from an eerie woodland to opulent royal palace plus the dramatic red curtains backdrop all set the scene.

But apart from the swans I found the costumes a little disappointing especially the party dresses of the ballerinas.

The evil magician Rothbart was bearded with a turban and flapped a big black cape while the beautiful princess Odette was a sad white swan with a nasty black swan double was dependent on her love interest Prince Siegfried to save her from the wicked sorcerer - nothing about girl power here.

The production is a unique collaboration between English National Ballet and English National Ballet schools created by English National Ballet associate artist George Williamson and performed by second year students from English National Ballet School.

It was wonderful to hear young people or for the very young their parents reading aloud the programme which is full of baby ballet informative and fun games.

Loved it, children loved it and we left wanting more...please.

Carol Deacon

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