YOUNG dance fans may love ballet but struggle to cope with a full-on, full-length production, so English National Ballet has come up with the perfect answer.
The company – and the English National Ballet School – will perform My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty, a re-imagined version of the classic fairy tale ballet created especially for children as young as three, at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre on Saturday and Sunday, 28 and 29 May.
The production has been adapted to an hour in length with a narrator to help young audiences follow the story, and choreographer George Williamson says: “When you’re little, your imagination is so strong and it’s the perfect time to fall in love with ballet.
“But classical ballets can sometimes be nearly three hours long, and sometimes children struggle with that length of time when it’s their first visit to the theatre.
“So to guide them into the world we shorten the run time to an hour with an interval. We make the performances as inclusive and accessible as possible by including narration to explain the ballet mime and exaggerate the narrative in the dance a little more to make it clear. We keep the beautiful costumes, sets and music and, as you would expect, the dancing is of a high standard.
My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty tells the story of Princess Aurora who, as a baby, is cursed by the evil Carabosse: on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. Fortunately, her godmother, the Lilac Fairy, alters the spell so Aurora will not die but instead sleep for 100 years, only to be awoken by true love’s kiss.
Since its inception in 2012, over 150,000 people have enjoyed the My First Ballet series, which has included Swan Lake, Coppelia and Cinderella.
George, a former student of the English Ballet School, adds: “It’s a brilliant idea and it makes me feel incredibly proud that it’s seen by so many people. I love seeing all the kids completely fixated on the dancers and then diving into their own worlds of movement during the interval.
“I don’t expect every child to start dance lessons after seeing it but I hope that they will ask their parents to see more ballet!
“My personal highlights have been getting to know so much about these famous classical ballets while researching and developing them. It makes you very aware of how special they are.”
As for his own introduction to ballet, he recalls: “At English National Ballet School we trained six days a week focusing mainly on ballet but also taking classes in contemporary and other styles.
“We also studied academic dance subjects such as dance through history and anatomy. We all took choreography classes too and I made a few ballets and got a lot of great feedback so I started making more ambitious work. Quite quickly, I realised that choreography was what I wanted to be doing and I spent all my free time working on it with the dancers in the school.
“I have a very busy imagination and I love anything creative. As a choreographer you get to explore so many different levels of your creativity and you get to work with other creative people.”