Eden Court is packed with excited children of all ages—some dressed in tutus and ballet gear—in anticipation of Scottish Ballet’s touring production of this classic, dark, cautionary tale. As the house lights go down, the narrator (played by James Siggins) leaps centre stage in front of the green forest cloth. Pantomime style, he warms the audience up with stories of magic and danger, creating atmosphere and excitement.
He introduces Hansel and Gretel (played alternately by Constant Vigier/ Aarón Venegas and Melissa Parsons/Alice Kawalek). As they argue and bicker, you soon get the idea that they do not take any notice of the dangers that lurk in the forest! They lay a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way home but a raven steels them, and a kind fairy (who turns out to be the witch) sends them to sleep. The gingerbread house is revealed. This is danced with enthusiasm and energy but at times the through line is lost with over-elaborate choreography.
Through sleight of costume and character, the fairy morphs into an old hag (played alternately by Grace Paulley/Madeline Squire) and encourages them to gorge themselves on a table laden with sweets and cakes. The choreography, by Christopher Hampson, really takes advantage of this moment with pies in the face, and tummy stuffing. The children are entertained by a pas de trois of dancing sweets. Dressed in tutus, echoing those of Elite Syncopations, this is a delightful introduction for children to the magical world of classical ballet and is followed by a terrific solo by the chef in charge of sweets executing fouettés and tours as an introduction to the traditional male dancer skills.
Out of cupboard tumble two soft toys showing off the physical versatility of the young dancers in the company. In the meantime, the witch is endeavouring to sever various limbs of the children on her chopping board ready for the oven. A comic device which is scary but funny and echoes Christopher Wheeldon’s Duchess in Alice. The audience love it: the highlight performance of the show.
Eventually Hansel is trapped in the witch’s cage, Gretel steals the key and manages to push the old hag into the oven. A horror moment, fortunately not over played, although her face in the oven door is a dark moment. All is now well, and the dancers are reunited on stage.
With a colourful setting this is a 50-minute introduction to dance performed to a recorded score by Engelbert Humperdinck. At times the storytelling is hurried and lacks clarity, but it is a complicated tale which veers between fun and horror. There is a feeling that it works better in smaller arts centres and not on a main stage, but as an introduction to ballet it is exemplary.
The bonus of a chance to meet the dancers in the foyer makes it a delightful experience for families, and is again delivered with style by Scottish Ballet.