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Children's shows - reviews

The Ugly Duckling – Northern Ballet

Milton Keynes Theatre
Friday 19 April 2013, 11:00am

Children’s ballets are a genius idea in my book.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not averse to seeing a little pink pig or other favourite TV shows recreated on the stage, far from it. I love a bit of Julia Donaldson brought to life and always enjoy a puppet show.

But I do think most of my pleasure comes from seeing V’s face light up when she sees something that she has only seen flat on a screen or a page, actually brought to life in front of her eyes.

The Ugly Duckling is Northern Ballet’s first especially for children and as a dance lover, it’s probably the first piece of kid’s theatre that I could enjoy on a proper adult level too.

It is quite literally a show for all ages.   Just as in the Hans Christian Andersen tale, a lonely and fed-up duckling is shunned by those around her who see her as too ugly to fit in,

Beautifully and charmingly danced by Isabella Gasparini, she tries to make friends with other animals, which is a great opportunity to portray a range of creatures in dance.

There are fellow playful ducklings, acrobatic, bouncing frogs, elegant cats and a sly fox, danced by Giuliano Contadini, who got the audience giggling with his attempts to eat the duckling for lunch.

The choreography, by Northern Ballet dancers Dreda Blow and Sebastian Loe, is perfectly pitched for young ones, with lots of action and loads of fun, all complemented by colourful costumes designed by Julie Anderson.

Sheer joy

Realising she is not like any of them, the duckling is left alone, until, well you know what happens, she turns into a swan which is the perfect excuse to introduce the classic white tutu and sparkling jewels – the epitome of a prima ballerina which had V wide-eyed with sheer joy.

Having just started ballet classes, my three-year-old was not only completely hooked, she tried to copy all the dances in the small space between her folded up theatre seat and the row in front – apologies to all around us who got a secondary performance.

There was also the small matter of her running commentary. The company did a special version of the show for CBeebies at Easter and, thanks to Sky Plus, she has seen this version numerous times,  so knew exactly what was coming next  – and told everybody!

At one stage, she also announced loudly that she “really wanted to go on the stage”. Sigh!

Last year, Northern Ballet was awarded over £350k of funding from Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring fund to create a three-year programme of small-scale family productions, of which The Ugly Duckling is the first.

The good news is that will be performing another two original short ballets especially for children, the next one being Three Little Pigs, which tours from October 2013.

As for the third, well you can add a suggestion of what you would like to see on their website, where they ask you to think about all the books, fairy tales and bedtime stories you might have read at home, school or nursery.

I think it’s a brilliant concept, a perfect opportunity to introduce a little ones to the magic of live ballet, and one that adults can also appreciate – as adults!

V’s verdict

I liked the ducklings and the swan queen – can I have a sparkly necklace like that mummy? Is there a shop round here where we can get one?!

More details at Northern Ballet

Running time: 45 minutes – absolutely perfect!

Age range: Recommended for children aged 0-8 and grown-ups too! And again, this is exactly right.Plus I don’t think you need to have a ballet-mad child as the colourful action and humour should appeal to all.

Other stuff: A small free programme with a few children’s activities in it. Result! I get so tired of some of the tat you are expected to fork out for at some children’s shows so this was a welcome relief. And V was just as happy looking through a few pictures of the show, as she would have been with something that flashed for 45 minutes, cost the best part of a tenner, then fell apart in the car on the way home.

The CBeebies website also has special features about the show, which include learning how to dance like ducklings.



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