One of the great initiatives we’ve seen in UK dance over the last few years has been the creation of special pieces for kids, generally those under eight. Short, colourful pieces, put on during the day/early evening, they pack a big punch using inventive sets and are not expensive to see – especially compared to a full-on Nutcracker, the traditional ballet that children are taken to see. English National Ballet and Northern Ballet are perhaps best known for such tours and now Ballet Black has joined in the fun, for fun it is, with Dogs Don’t Do Ballet.
Dogs Don’t Do Ballet is based on a 2010 book by Anna Kemp. Shortlisted for a Roald Dahl prize, it tells the story of Biff, a doggie who likes doing ballet, wants to do class like his young owner, but isn’t allowed to by the horrid Miss Polly. Needless to say, talent wins through and Biff sneaks in to see a real ballet, and when things go amiss for the lead ballerina, Biff saves the show, thus proving that dogs really can do ballet. Hurrah. Dogs Don’t runs less than an hour but packs in walks in the park, ballet class, dream section, meetings with other dogs and the actual ballet. The scene changes are, for most part, slickly done on the fly and all the characters are sketched and acted big so you know what’s happening. Biff is obviously the star, as is Anna, biff’s young owner, but we all loved to hate Miss Polly: an over-the-top 1930’s harridan of a ballet teacher complete with stick and memories of past triumphs, probably on the pier at Rhyl rather than in Paris or St. Petersburg.
The choreographer is Christopher Marney who has crated a number of dramatic pieces for Ballet Black (and others) that succeed with audiences. I sometimes find there is too little dance in his works, but here it all works well with such strong emphasis on the drama. Right man for the job and he uses a great selection of well-known classical excerpts from Tchaikovsky, Strauss and Faure all of which sound fresh and not in need of a twerking up for youngsters. The delightfully quirky designs are by Gary Harris – I particularly love his tutu covered in bone motifs.
So how did it go with the young audience? Answer, jolly well. And at home later the programme, which folds out to a poster, entertainingly tells more about Biff, the music and creatives (but sadly no mention of dancers) and you get some colouring pens to make your own Biff portrait. Sweet show, worth catching when it comes near you, especially with tickets between £8 – £14.