The main stage at Wales Millennium Centre can be a vast chasm for many productions transferring from touring often smaller venues. Yet Ballet Cymru’s scrumptious, lip-smackingly tasty Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs, based on Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes which in turn are based on the childhood tales, could have been made with this stage in mind.
This is where the company should now be seen on a regular basis having proved both at home, nationally and internationally that it is one of the very few organisations in Wales that have the credentials, reach and experience to deserve their place on that stage. There have been plenty of examples of shows that really should not have been rewarded with such a booking and some dances that, frankly, could have stayed at home.
The massive theatre was packed with parents and children and ballet lovers of all ages and those of us who have watched this adorable troupe grow up and develop into our national ballet company. I wondered quite how the children would settle down and listen to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales playing on the stage, behind the dancers. Not a problem at all. Then I wondered where the fact that these tales are, well, indeed twisted. No problems again. It took a few minutes of the audience to go silent but once gripped the attention was held throughout the first half of the programme, the Little Red Riding Hood tale. Back after a break and ice cream it was the turn of The Three Little Pigs and the jollity continued to flow as fast and smoothly as tomato ketchup on a bacon sarnie.
Here the text, as adapted text by Donald Sturrock, is spoken with a little more menace than I remember from earlier performances in those smaller venues by the narrator of the two tales that have Little Red Riding Hood appearing in both (now there’s a twist for a start) Mark Griffiths. He moves with style, elegance and speaks with a mesmerising voice as he draws us all into Dahl’s subversive spin on these seemingly well-known stories.
The company’s dancers delighted in the freaky menagerie of fun woodland and domestic animal characters including Stupid Wolf danced by Andrea Maria Battaggia and Mean Wolf from Miguel Fernandes, a drunken Bad grandma from Robbie Moorcroft and the sparkling and sassy Anna Pujol as the not so innocent Little Red Riding Hood. Each had their own leitmotif , reflected in the music, and when working ensemble their movement is niftily choreographed with balletic flourishes and dollops of good humour. You could just feel the warmth of good feeling from the audience as cleverly drawn character after character appeared, from the nervous Sheep (Gwenllian Davies), the fun Big Fat Sow (Ann Wall) to the very jolly panto Cow (Dylan Waddell and Miguel Fernandes).
That second show is even more naughty than the first with Mark tells us that “The animal I really dig, Above all others is the pig” before introducing the three very different little porkers, anther naughty wolf and the return of the pistol-packing fashionable heroine. This tieme the Mean Wolf is danced by Dylan Waddell and the three brilliantly conceived pigs are danced by Robbie Moorcroft, Gwenllian Davies and Miguel Fernades.
Similarly the choreography from Darius James and Amy Doughty balanced deftly the demands of the ballet savvy audience member and the hundreds and hundreds of children for whom this was their introduction to ballet and dance generally. If only they can be kept just as absorbed and obviously thrilled by dance as they grow into teenagers and then young adults – but then that is the responsibility of all our dance companies – and funders – who so often spin into arts house frivolity and desperation for novelty rather than consider what an audience would actually enjoy.
Ballet Cymru here shows you can put on a dance performance without punishing an audience.The much-loved scores from composer Paul Patterson, commissioned by The Dahl Foundation, was magical performed live in this huge space and what a perfect introduction to orchestral music for the younger members of the audience (and probably many of the adults as well). Designer Steve Denton’s fabulous and cheeky costumes are even more appealing seen on the large stage under the well-considered and balanced lighting design from Chris Illingworth.
This Ballet Cymru, Riverfront Theatre co-production has toured widely and surely after this quite triumphant performance at Wales Millennium Centre, where dance audiences numbers are, should we say, slightly challenged at the moment, the national ballet company should be an annual fixture in the venue’s calendar.
Oh, and unlike another Roald Dahl venture this year, everyone could actually see what was happening and went home happy.