Review by Beverley Haigh
Reviewed at CAST, Doncaster
Touring nationally in 2016
This is surely Aesop’s most famous fable: Tortoise accepts boastful Hare’s challenge to a race, eventually beating him at the finish line after his over-confident competitor takes a nap halfway through. The morals and central themes of the tale are why it endures: perseverance wins over speed, vanity and idleness are disregarded, and friendship prevails. It’s a welcome addition, then, to Northern Ballet’s expanding repertoire of children’s ballets. Tortoise & The Hare follows the success of previous productions – The Three Little Pigs, The Ugly Duckling and Elves and the Shoemaker – again triumphing in a perfectly pitched and audience-appropriate interpretation for the very young.
As an introduction to ballet, Tortoise & The Hare is sure to charm any child into becoming a seasoned theatre-goer. From the outset the scenery is bold and vivid and the characters endearing. The woodland setting allows scope for plenty of friendly creatures which appeal to even the youngest audience member, whilst utilising the conventions of traditional ballet. An encounter with Butterfly during the race introduces some graceful pointe work as her exquisite beauty captivates and distracts the energetic Hare, whilst Tortoise and The Bunnies allow scope for humour.
Performed by only six dancers with a playful energy and sense of fun, the narrative is so easy to follow that the audience can simply enjoy the dancing and the depiction of the characters onstage. Even in its most conventional form, ballet is child-friendly as it allows a narrative to be followed visually rather than struggling with the complexities of dialogue. However, Northern Ballet go the extra distance with their one act shortened versions, which are to be enjoyed in a less formal setting without the ballet experience being compromised. The original score by Bruno Merz reflects the playfulness of the piece and is performed by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, and although reduced to just four players to accommodate the smaller venue, it still offers the opportunity for children to experience the thrill of live music to accompany the piece.
The formula the company has hit upon is a sure-fire winner and one they will no doubt repeat. With a tour of Goldilocks & The Three Bears already lined up for the Autumn and funding secured for a least three more years, Northern Ballet can guarantee plenty more delighted young audiences in the future.