Friday, 31 October 2014

Catching them young

The combination of colour, drama, movement and music often set to a familiar fairy story can capture a child's imagination. Once captured the experience can lead to a lifetime's pleasure unless soured by compulsory ballet lessons on a Saturday morning in a draughty church hall.

In contrast to other children's media, ballet sends out some positive messages. It is the one art form in which women have always enjoyed at least equality with men. Great for the self-confidence of girls who may not want to dance on stage but have ambitions in other fields: see how ballet works for kids from a rough neighbourhood in Nairobi in What can be achieved by a good teacher 3 March 2013. Ballet also sends messages for boys in that women are to be cherished and respected - not insulted, molested or ravished. How a ballerina stands en pointe or turns on pirouette contains useful lessons on mechanics and mathematics for both genders. Getting kids moving in a studio instead of slouching in front of the telly or a tablet with a milkshake and burger would save the NHS billions. Perhaps most importantly of all ballet - unlike Disney animations - is palpably real. Dancers may do wonderful things with their leaps and turns but they are still human beings - in many cases just a few years older than their audience.

So how to get a young child hooked on all this positivity? The great Spanish educationalist St Ignatius de Loyola is reputed to have said "Give me a child to the age of 7 and I will show you the man". The problem with ballets like The Nutcracker and Cinderella is that they last too long for the under sevens. The answer is to choreograph a ballet for that age group and that is something that English National Ballet has done spectacularly well with its My First Ballet series. Last year it was Coppelia which I reviewed on 14 April 2014 and this year it is Swan Lake. Vlad the Lad who will be four in December and is the nearest I have to a grandson said it was "awesome" which is a big word for a three year old. He enjoyed the show so much that he even sat through a performance in which his real less-than-fairy-more-like-hippo-godmother had the time of her life in Leeds.

But Vlad was even more impressed by Chris Marney's Dogs Don't Do Ballet for Ballet Black and he actually had the pleasure of meeting Mr Marney as well as Cassa Pancho. She is the nearest he will ever get to meeting a fairy godmother in that she made possible the wonders that took place before his very eyes. Bless you Chris and Cassa and all your wonderful dancers, particularly Madame Kanikova whose predicament with the French horn was of real concern to Vlad.

So what else can children of Vlad's age see? My beloved Northern is touring the nation with elves and the shoemaker building on its success with Three Little Pigs and The Ugly Duckling.  Birmingham Royal Ballet is presenting First Steps: a child's Coppelia to kids in Edinburgh and Manchester in the Spring. Just across the North Sea Ernst Meisner's The Little Big Chest for the Dutch National Ballet seems to have been a runaway success in Amsterdam - easier to reach and cheaper to stay in than London for many of us in the UK. For slightly older children there is the Royal Ballet's The Mad Hatter's Tea Party and maybe Chantry Dance's The Happy Prince.

If I have time I will arrange a resource page of children's ballet's with reviews and information about prices, times and venues.

Post Script

22 Nov 2014   After watching The Happy Prince in Halifax on Thursday I ran into Paul Chantry and Rae Piper in the Square Chapel bar. I told them that I had enjoyed the show and would have loved to have taken Vlad the Lad to see it at the Wells but their performance would take place way after his bedtime. They replied that they intend to take the show into children's theatre in the next few months so I should be able to take him to see it. I will blog the dates, times and venues of those performances just as soon as I hear about them.

Also I have some good news for Northern kids. Cassa Pancho tweeted that Ballet Black are coming back to Leeds shortly with Dogs Don't Do Ballet so I shall let you all know when they are coming.

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