REVIEW: A ballet performance to lift the spirits

The cast take a well-deserved curtain call.
The cast take a well-deserved curtain call.

From the moment the curtain went up on a colourful farmyard scene of dancing chicks, hens and cockerels you just knew you were in for a treat at the Maltings on Saturday afternoon.

La Fille mal Gardee by The Jane Keenan School of Ballet in association with The Ballet Pod was a new experience; young ballet school pupils performing on stage with professional dancers, and how they rose to the occasion.

The young dancers grasped the importance of giving a ‘performance’, not just doing their dance as well as they could and the result was a thoroughly absorbing and entertaining afternoon for the capacity audiences at the two performances, everyone leaving with a smile on their face.

Many of Jane Keenan’s dancers are used to performing on The Maltings stage but La Fille mal Gardee was on another level and having reached that level the challenge for the future is to emulate or even better it!

The dancing and story telling, the scenery, the costumes and the sheer joie de vivre emanating from the stage proved that the collaboration between the local ballet school and the professional Ballet Pod dancers was successful beyond all expectations.

The two performances of La Fille mal Gardee were the culmination of the Berwick Ballet Initiative, a new and innovative project funded by Simpson McCreath Trust to give children in the area the opportunity to explore the art of ballet as audience, pupil and performer.

In July, Ballet Pod artistic director Richard Slaughter toured schools in Berwick with a lecture demonstration, pupils experiencing live performance and workshops.

Prior to that he had already been making regular visits to the town to oversee rehearsals by Jane Keenan’s pupils for this new version of La Fille mal Gardee, a ballet that Richard has performed in at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Richard also took time to coach one of Jane’s most promising pupils Daniel Clelland who was taking on one of the lead roles in the ballet. And that time was clearly well spent as Daniel gave an outstanding performance as the dim witted Alain who thought he was going to marry the beautiful Lise when her mother and his father made a deal. Daniel’s obvious talent as a dancer coupled with his comic acting skills must have made both Jane and Richard very proud and he is clearly a young man who will go far in his career as a dancer.

The lead role of Lise was danced by Ann Wall from Ballet Pod and her brother Michael was Colas her young suitor. Richard, artistic director and choreographer played Lise’s overbearing mother - just the right side of pantomime dame - and along with Daniel provided the comedic moments during this enthralling production of a light comedy ballet.

Picnics and maypole dancing in the farmyard that were interrupted by a thunder storm to Lise trying to hide her suitor Colas who has sneaked into the house to see her while her mother is out shopping, the storytelling through dance was transparent and easy to follow. It descended into farce when Alain and his father arrived at the house for the wedding and when Alain went to fetch Lise who was sent to put on her wedding dress he discovered her with Colas. His father storms out followed by Alain who then returns for his favourite red umbrella - he may have lost the girl but his joy at being reunited with his umbrella was the perfect note for the ballet to end on.

Berwick Ballet Initiative hopes to continue with the second phase of the project which would include all young people interested in performing.

Richard Slaughter has created a new work based on L S Lowry’s painting of Berwick and Jane Keenan is writing a new ballet for her older students based on the paintings of Degas.

And to round off the programme they hope the Ballet Pod will return with a grand pas de deux from one of the great classical ballets.