Hansel & Gretel

Hansel and Gretel is a lesser produced ballet and so lesser known. The modern ballet music is hard to find—I, myself, couldn’t find the Edvard Grieg ballet music to download. (You can see a piece to that music in this link  at the 35 minute mark.) So, when music is harder to get ballet schools or universities set their productions to the wrong music: like this production by the Lake Erie Ballet School  that used music from La Fille Mal Gardee, or this National Youth Ensemble/National Ballet of Cuba production set to Arthur Fielder.

In my classes, I teach the older version of the ballet which uses the music of the German opera by Engelbert Humperdinck. I tell the children ‘long ago you could only see ballet at the opera’ and as opera developed ballet was less of a fixture in it.  You can get a sense of what I’m describing from  this Idaho Falls Opera production. 

I’ve been most inspired by  this Washington Ballet production of Hansel and Gretel. In it, you’ll hear the translated opera which acts as background music. Each production takes a little liberty with certain set pieces, and this one puts a lot into the witch and her relationship with the woodland creatures. It’s pretty spectacular.

The IBAM production follows the lead of the modern UK productions by presenting the witch as an angelic vision—they differ from the modern production by giving a lot of room to small children in the corps de ballet.

The more modern productions of the ballet came out of the UK. Celebrity choreographer Liam Scarlett choreographed a production with new music by Dan Jones. The Royal Ballet doesn’t allow their productions on YouTube but you can see videos about their productions via their channel. Here, Scarlett talks about his vision  here, the production designer talks about creating the look of the ballet. The Scottish Ballet has a well publicized production and in their trailer you can get a sense of the dreamlike production design and the magical effect of their deceptively angelic witch. It makes the whole thing seem new again.

June Ballet – Firebird

Stravinsky’s Firebird really piques the children’s imaginations. Do you remember the fad surrounding “Let it Go,” from Disney’s FROZEN? Somehow, their response to Firebird is a similar form of fascination. They play it on the playground! I just love how they get into it!

This 1977 production is my favorite of all those I’m linking you to! It begins with the “birth” of Katschei, which is really intriguing!

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May Ballet – Coppelia: A Comedy of Toys and Ballerinas

 

As with all the ballets teach the children, I’ve simplified this some. Your children won’t recognize the “jealousy plot” that brews with Rhinehardt offers a flower to Coppelia (the doll). When we dance like Swanilde entering the Inventor’s studio I fail to mention she does so with friends. I also regularly forget the occult undertones of the Inventor’s work (I just say he’s “silly”). Yet, despite literal differences it’s likely the dancers won’t be too bothered with variation. This said, the ballets listed below are incredibly similar to each other so choosing which to watch is a matter of preference: watch a few moments from the middle and see which you prefer.

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April Ballet of the Month: Peter and the Wolf

Peter and the Wolf is such a beloved story it’s inspired at least two major composers to render the story into song. In my class, we begin with the symphony Sergei Prokofiev composed to introduce children to the orchestra. I love the Little Long Playing Record Disney produced, I know I had one as a child. In the class, I use a recording Disney produced for the titular cartoon featuring narration by Boris Karloff. Here is the link to buy and the link to hear in entirety on YouTube. This was also a cartoon you might have seen in your childhood. It doesn’t appear in it’s entirety on youtube–so far as i can find–but there are so many foreign language cartoons of the story there, it’s remarkable! If you haven’t seen the Disney version, maybe you’ve seen this Mel-O-Toon from the 60s.

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CINDERELLA (Like Nutcracker for the Spring)

The ballet Cinderella is the most popular ballet for children (after Nutcracker, that is). The ballet’s composer, Sergei Prokofiev, was also responsible for Peter and the Wolf, which he designed as an child’s introduction to the orchestra. Despite Prokofiev’s evident interest in bringing children culture, the music of Cinderella doesn’t sound at all like children’s music. It’s moody and modern with patches of darkness that make the magic in the story seem little edgy. Don’t worry, it’s nothing the kids can’t handle. The choreography is cartoonish and loaded with pantomime and character steps for easy reading for any age. Below I’m providing links for three different production of Cinderella so that you might share the ballet with your tiny dancer!

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February is Sleeping Beauty Month

 

Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty is among the longest and most technically difficult ballets of the canon—and, as if understanding this, the companies who produce the ballet have the most glorious sets and costumes. The attention to detail is inspiring!

You should know the ballet is different in some ways to the movie—though Disney did use a few of the more prominent pieces of Tchaikovsky’s score for his movie. Most notably, he retooled the Sleeping Beauty Waltz for “Once Upon a Dream.” In addition to being a more familiar story than most ballets, you’ll recognize a lot of songs from Sleeping Beauty you’ve heard before in other places.

The two productions I want to direct you to are real treats! Traditionally, the hardest roles for men and women are in Sleeping Beauty: for women, it’s the title role. For men, it’s the role of the Bluebird (in the final act), which is also, often played by the same man who plays Carabosse. Among the most famous ballet dancers in history, Enrico Cecchetti, made the two male roles famous. Cecchetti is also responsible for one of the four principle ballet methods: Cecchetti, Vaganova, Bournonville and Royal Ballet.

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