Saturday, 18 January 2014

Hansel and Gretel Rehearsal

The Royal Ballet in Rehearsal, Clore Studio @ ROH  - reviewed on 17th January

Laura Morera as the Stepmother
Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH
It is always a pleasure to see the Royal Ballet in rehearsal, but I was particularly excited to see themHansel and Gretel. I reviewed the ballet when it was first performed last year and felt like I didn't really understand the characters or narrative, so it was fascinating to get an insight.
working on Liam Scarlett's

Scarlett is away for the whole rehearsal period so the work's restaging of has been entrusted to First Soloist Ricardo Cervera. "It's a privilege but also a huge responsibility. I assisted during the creation period and took lots of videos and made notes so I know the ballet well. But the dancers remember most of it anyway."

Taking the roles of the "chronically depressed alcoholic" Dad and the "confident, in control and child-hating" Stepmother were Johannes Stepanek and Kristen McNally. They began with their Act I duet, with Cervera stepping in briefly to represent Gretel: "That's the great thing about leading rehearsals - you can play all those roles you always dreamt of!"

The dancers seemed confident but Cervera helped them unpick a few incorrect grips and positions. He also encouraged McNally to maintain a more dead-pan facial expression: "You're happy that you're in control and abusing your husband, but sometimes you just feel like you can't be bothered."

The ballet includes lots of props which make life tricky for the dancers. Everything has to end up in exactly the right place, even if it is dropped or thrown. McNally worries particularly that when she has to smash a beer bottle over her partner's head that she will pick up the wrong (and not specially designed) one!

The fact that the audience sits on both sides of the stage is also a challenge. To give the best views in all directions, Scarlett has put much of the choreography at angles rather than flat to the front. But Stepanek enjoys having the audience up close. "We can be much more minimalistic and sensitive with the acting as people can see the subtle nuances that would be lost in the main house."

The father character is quite one-dimensional but the Stepmother's emotions are much more changeable onstage. When she first enters, she is like a caricature, full of exuberance and self-assurance.  But she soon becomes overwhelmed by anger at the household's numerous unpaid bills and her husband's lethargy.

McNally described feeling inspired by Jennifer Lawrence in the film 'American Hustle': "I want to make the Stepmother feel real."

Brian Maloney and Paul Kay
in Hansel and Gretel in 2013.
Photo: Tristram Kenton
The ballet's timing is also difficult as it is performed to a recorded score with sound effects and all actions need to match the correct moment in the music. The skill required in this usually goes unnoticed, but becomes clear in rehearsal when musical cues are not as familiar as they will be for the final performances.

Stephaek and McNally also worked on their third duet, which takes place after they discover their children are missing. Cervera described himself as "like a dog with a bone" as he wouldn't let go of even small mistakes and kept working with the dancers to ensure all details were correct.

Alongside the title characters and their parents, there are two other roles - the Sandman and the Witch. The former is a terrifying human 'doll' who lures Hansel and Gretel to the Witch's house, where a character more like a serial killer than a fairy tale 'baddie' ties them to chairs and paints their faces with clown-like make-up. Needless to say, it's a rather disturbing version of Hansel and Gretel.

Clearly dark stories appeal to Scarlett, but what exactly is his choreographic style? For Cervera, it is the influence of Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan that define it. "He's definitely a British choreographer, with precise footwork and expansive use of the arms and upper body."

No comments:

Post a Comment