Hungry children from an impoverished family are at the heart of the Royal New Zealand Ballet's splendid new full-length ballet, Hansel and Gretel.
The 1812 folk tale by the Brothers Grimm has been adapted to provide relevance for a contemporary audience, with an implied critique of the extravagant excesses of our contemporary food industry highlighting the need to provide adequate food for all.
These themes are carefully embedded and are cleverly established through strong contrasts between different kinds of experience – the poverty of Hansel and Gretel's family, the extravagance and waste in the Ice Cream Witch's world, and the fairy tale unreality of the Dew Fairy's world.
Each world has its own colour palette, music and dance styling, degree of simplicity or complexity, and delightful details to remember later. An immersive environment is created by film projected onto multiple layers of scrim which allow crisp images to play against shadowy figures, with animations adding to the visual effects. Projections and animations by Pow Studios have been directed by designer Kate Hawley who also is responsible for extraordinary costumes and design elements such as the Gingerbread House Kitchen and the family's Tiny House in the forest.
There is lushly expressive music composed by Aucklander Claire Cowan of, Blackbird Ensemble, played with gusto by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Hamish McKeich. In true ballet style, there are variegated melodies and motifs associated with each significant character and setting, clever contrasts of major and minor to change the mood and add threat or relieve terror, and some novel orchestration for kitchen objects.
Choreographer Loughlan Prior has clearly relished making his first full length ballet, and has created a fluid mix of classical and contemporary movement drawn from several different eras to differentiate the various characters and tell the story effectively. The company's dancers perform with gusto.
What: Hansel & Gretel, The Royal NZ Ballet
Where: Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre; this week, Friday & Saturday, Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna.
Reviewer: Raewyn Whyte