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London Children's Ballet

‘Ballet Shoes’,

May 2001
London, Peacock Theatre

by Bruce Marriott


all LCB reviews




In short...
A classic girlies’ book brought to life in a very professional show. Cathy Marston's first full-length evening piece and rather superb I thought. Bravos all round.

Background
I've seen a number of children’s shows over the years but never one by The London Children's Ballet who have been going since 1994 and commission a new full-length story ballet (and score) each year. The company makes much of catering for a wide cross-section of the community, but the audience of mums and kids looked incredibly posh to me. You wouldn't believe the number of Range Rovers and other expensive people carriers outside the entrance! However the affluent do know how to pull things together and the Gala Committee (9 members) and Ticket Committee (53 number - can you imagine chairing it!) put on shows that sell out every year - this year it was six full houses at the Peacock: one hell of an achievement.

Plot
While the boys read Biggles in the 30's, 40's and 50's the girls read Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield. Apparently it caused a Harry Potter- like stir when first published in 1936 and it's very hard to imagine the story being invented today. Suffice it to say that Great Uncle Matthew (GUM) travels the world and over a 4 year period brings or sends 3 baby girls to his niece’s home. Social services appear not to be involved in any of the transactions...

The girls, naturally all rather different, go through various trials and tribulations, mostly of a dance and stage related nature before each finding their feet: one off to Hollywood, one to be a ballerina and the middle one - with a passion for mechanics and cars - is invited to go off with GUM for an "exciting future". There is a lovely innocence about it all: thank goodness that stories like this are not lost through political correctness.

The scenario, over 12 scenes, in 2 acts, is by Lucille Briance (the director of the company) and the music by Raymond Warren and incorporating some bits from Mendelssohn’s The Midsummer Night’s Dream. It all worked well.

Sets and Costumes
The set (Eva Oppenlander) for the most part is fixed and is adapted with lighting, a few nice drop-downs or some wheel-on additions. At first it looked a little sparse but overall I warmed to it and the way it adapted to reflect different locations. The costumes, by Kate Ford, were really very special I thought, captured the 30's feel and were very well made too - more professional even than those in which some UK companies appeared in the early 90's.

Choreography
Cathy Marston did a nice job I thought - the stage was abuzz. The story is graphic and was told boldly but without getting incredibly twee. Neither did it pander to the kids and it pushed them in grown-up ways, while being well rehearsed. It's nice to see that the expressive and dramatic movement that Marston creates for her more personal works transports so well and she brought life to some rather strange characters and weird plot. Just loved the Midsummer Night’s Dream choreography which ended in a terrific Sleeping Beauty type tableau! It will be nice to see her tackle a full-blown dramatic work for an older company of dancers now.

Dancers
A mix of ages (9-14) and talents, but for the most part with charisma, stage and dance presence. Over 120 appeared in all and I congratulate them all.

Does it work?
Yep - I'd go again to one of their performances. Great that they create new work and give another outlet for the creative talents and development of so many.

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