TALES OF BEATRIX POTTER
Chelmsford Ballet Company at the Civic Theatre
The mice, pigs, squirrels and the rest are very much a festive fixture at Covent Garden nowadays, but it was the Chelmsford Ballet Company who first made the transition from celluloid to stage back in 1984.
Their latest production is lively and fresh, with expressive new animal masks specially made by Craig Denston.
All the wonderful characters are there – Peter Rabbit [Jemma Wilson] waving his looted lettuces, the strutting Fox [Leah McElrea], the school of tiny hedgehogs, the stylish Squirrel quintet, an agile Jeremy Fisher [Michaela Caldecott], the gawky pigs, with the touching courtship of Pigling Bland and the Black Berkshire [Andrew Potter and Emily Starling] interrupted by sizzling pork sausages. And Nicole Gadbury's silly Jemima Puddleduck, soaring above it all to escape a foxy fate.
There was a lovely original prelude piece, too, danced to Nigel Westlake's music for the film Miss Potter, with Demi Aldred's Beatrix finding her inspiration, and, child-like, leaving her desk to work lying on the floor. These linked pieces both choreographed by Annette Potter.
Guest choreographer Carl Parris gave us a constantly enjoyable Nightclub Express, with nippy waitresses and leggy showgirls – first in a Chorus Line-style warm-up in muted browns, then in scarlet and black for the Slaughter ballet, with Luke Bradshaw's cop torn between two high-kicking molls.
And, icing on the cake, a cracking tap routine.
Mary Redman saw the show on the Saturday ...
After 23 years of watching them Chelmsford Ballet Company never fails to amuse or delight or entertain and impress me with the standard of dancing and the gorgeous costuming confections. Thus it was a disappointment to hear that this year's ticket sales had not been as numerous as the committee needed and the company deserved.
Carl Parris's exuberant, sexy and beguiling Nightclub Express opened the evening. For anyone who loves musical theatre there was just about every sassy step and jaw-droppingly precise sequence we could have wished for, with feathers, snazzy black and red outfits and loads of what Follies calls “those beautiful girls”. In particular, the smart black leotards and jazzy little skirts of the cocktail waitresses suited them beautifully, adding to their joyful dancing. The audience enjoyed every moment and so did the dancers. Plus it was good to see confident adult guest dancer Luke Bradshaw around whom the dancers swirled and vamped, plus a special nod to equally confident Michael Preston as the only boy in the team.
This was followed by Beatrix a short interlude or taster of the animal delights to follow. I didn't envy Demi Aldred having to dance in such a long, clingy and swirling skirt but she took this coolly in her stride.
Then came the sheer fun of Tales of Beatrix Potter under the expert and sympathetic direction of Annette Potter. All the main characters of the children's tales were there and characterised with such wit. Mrs Tittlemouse entertaining Johnny Town-Mouse accompanied by a plethora of charming little mice; a naughty Peter Rabbit; Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and her irresistibly cute Baby Hedgehogs; Jemima Puddle-Duck soaring over the head of the nasty Fox; Pigs galore especially Alexander, Aunt Pettitoes, Pigling Bland and the adorable Black Berkshire Pig; the funny Jeremy Fisher; Hunca Munca and Tom Thumb; the bossy Squirrel Nutkin and his mutinous gang; and last but not least the elegantly dainty Tabitha Twitchet.
Craig Denston was responsible for the lively and witty masks that contributed so much to the success of this part of the evening.
For me one especial delight was to see coloured pointe shoes. They do make such a difference to the look of the whole thing but it seems to have been a fashion (probably an economic one) in the whole ballet world for many years to wear pink, white or flesh. These have their place but just think of the sheer drama of Moira Shearer in her red shoes as merely one example.
So now we have Napoli to look forward to in 2012 but don't forget that Ballet Central is at the Civic on May 5 with a new ballet created by Brentwood's own Christopher Marney who dances leading characters with Matthew Bourne's company.