Dogs Don’t Do Ballet

Review by Flossie Waite
A Ballet Black Production
Touring nationally until 26th June
For ages 3+

This is not the first adaptation of Anna Kemp’s best-selling picturebook; the Little Angel Theatre created their own version of Biff the ballet-loving dog’s story. Unlike that production, in this new interpretation, there’s not a puppet in sight. This is a piece of dance theatre, and here, the dog really can do ballet.

Biff loves to dance. While other dogs are weeing against lampposts and drinking the water from the toilet bowl, he dreams of pirouettes and pliés. He can’t help practicing his moves in the park, in a dance class, and even at the Royal Ballet!

Ballet Black’s production takes the core story from the picturebook, and embellishes it. Here, for example, Biff’s owner, a little girl, is also a ballet fanatic, and rather than him just following her to classes, she actively tries to teach him to dance whenever she can. Another addition – a canine romance seems on the cards when a toy dalmation comes alive at night, but despite a beautiful dance duet, he is just more interested in himself. And the fearsome (but fabulous) ballet teacher, Miss Polly, has a drinking problem, enlisting students to physically support her own dance moves. Rather than feeling like filler, which can be a risk, these inserted scenes simply extend the humour and style found in the original text.

On a walk in the park, Biff meets another dog, and the little girl meets its owner. What follows is a highlight of Christopher Marney’s choreography: an intricate dance of tying up and untangling with the dogs’ leads.

There are a number of companies creating dance theatre for young audiences at the moment, and artsdepot is a great supporter of them; only a few weeks ago they hosted Peut-être Theatre’s wonderful Shh… Bang! But the dance in these shows seems to defy genre (though, what would I know?), with a focus on exploring narrative through movement and combining a range of different influences. Ballet, as we would probably think of it, still seems a festive treat, with The Snowman and The Nutcracker popping up at the same time each year. Just as children’s theatre is gradually being seen as something for life, not just for Christmas, it’s great to see Ballet Black sending a similar message about ballet with their first family production.

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