London Children’s Ballet
A Little Princess
Matinee, 21 April 2012
London Children’s Ballet is unique and rather amazing: each year they present a brand-new, full-length ballet featuring about 60 children varying in age from 9 to 16. There is no standing troupe as such and 600+ young dancers audition each autumn, the best/the lucky ones becoming involved in the ballet’s creation from January to April and the performance at London’s Peacock Theatre. But LCB also do Masterclasses, Summer Schools and even have a small touring company getting out into the community. The shows, large or small, help encourage a new generation to love dance and they are also about giving a push to junior choreographers, designers and composers. Some earlier choreographers have been Cathy Marston (currently directing Bern Ballet) and Irek Mukhamedov, one of the finest Russian dancers of his generation and a huge Royal Ballet star.
A Little Princess Plot
Anybody looking for political correctness should leave now – this is a plot from another century when it was common for Indian servants in the mansion next door to sneak into little girls’ bedrooms late at night and cheer them up. Odd certainly – but so is kissing Swans and being danced to death, I suppose. There are 13 scenes in this adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book, and while they are elaborated in short order in a programme that would put most grown-up companies to shame, they also have a brief synopsis that gives you the essentials:
This is the story of Sara, a sensible, kind and very wealthy little girl who is left in boarding-school by her widowed father, Captain Crewe. The Headmistress, Miss Minchin, is cruel and greedy. When Captain Crewe dies, she makes Sarah the school slave, feeds her little, and casts her into the freezing attic to sleep. One night the neighbouring Indian servant, Ram Dass, creeps into Sara’s room bringing gifts of food and warmth. When a beautiful fur cape is delivered to Sara, she runs next door to thank her neighbours and learns that Mr Carrisford has been searching London for the face in the photo given to him by Captain Crewe. Sara has inherited a diamond mine. Sara forgives Miss Minchin and the school bullies, and they all join in singing carols in the spirit of Christmas.
Sets and Costumes
It’s a children’s show so it’s all going to look as if it’s contructed of cardboard and with badly-sewn costumes made from old curtains. Wrong – I’m always surprised by just how high the production values are. Neil Irish’s sets have to be Victorian street scene, parlour, school etc and they adapt economically and cleverly, but the highlight comes in Act 2 with the attic bedroom, suggested with only a few giant rafters and chimneys – good stuff. The costumes have been adapted from an earlier version of the show and look professional and tidy.
Choreography and Music
This was a big commission for the Royal Ballet’s Samantha Raine. A well-loved soloist dancer but I’ve seen a couple of things of hers in the young choreographic ‘Works’ series at the Royal Opera House where she created confident movement and duets. While some push boundaries, here was somebody starting out by mining traditional Royal Ballet good taste, I thought, and you see the extension of that in Little Princess. There is certainly a lot of choreography needed as many of the dancers have little cameo ‘sketches’ to exploit their individual talents – the age range means a vast range of technical ability too. As with the sets I much enjoyed the attic scenes with Rats, Friends, Enemies, Indian Servant and Monkey all woven well together
The music is a custom score created by Tim Hammond in the mid 1990′s for the first LCB production of Little Princess and played live for each performance. It’s really rather good in pretty seamlessly mixing strings and brass-band airs – it jauntily drives the narrative.
It’s impossible to name everybody but here are the ones who jumped out for me:
Ella Vickerman, who danced Sara Crewe (the lead girl) very neatly and expressively. She did look like she was going through hell, but also saintly enough to forgive.
Ella Murray as Lavinia (Chief Bully) and her 4 accomplice Bullies – they all jeered, snarled and showed disdain really rather well – not easy!
Jessica Turner as the Monkey – If there is such an animal as the Ever Smiling Clambering Monkey then this was it personified. Such a fun and joyful performance.
BUT… just as on big people’s stages, telling a story is not just down to a few but to the entire company all pulling together… and so I say WELL DONE ALL.
A great outing for kids, who made the bulk of the audience and were attentive and totally absorbed by it all. That and good production values make it a pleasure to be a big kid yourself. All power to LCB for doing what they do so very well and presenting young dancers in such a professional context.