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Northern Ballet - Ugly Duckling - Autumn 2012

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I had a day out in Leeds yesterday to see Northern Ballet's ballet for children - Ugly Duckling. The perfomance was at the theatre in the Company's HQ, which holds around 200 people, so it was a nice intimate setting.


When I arrived, the foyer was already full of excited young children who were happily crayoning the "colouring in" pages that were available. The small programmes were free and had some nice pictures as well as a clear synopsis that could be read out to the younger children.


Here's an online version of the programme: http://issuu.com/northernballet/docs/northern-ballet-ugly-duckling-programme?mode=window&pageNumber=6


The ballet is accompanied by live music from 4 musicians. When I was chatting to Mark Skipper (CE of NB) after the performance I mentioned the live performance and he told me that the intention was to make the experience as much like a performance of any other NB production as possible.


The ballet lasts about 40 minutes, which is an ideal length for younger children's attention span. It is an absolute delight. There are 6 dancers in the production; all of them apart from Ugly take on multiple roles. The choreography is simple and attractive and the music is very jolly.


The scene is set when you walk into the theatre and see the set, which has a countryside backcloth and implies a stream and duckpond. You can hear bird life in the background. Mother Duck is waiting for her eggs to hatch. Three of them hatch really quickly and then there is a wait for the 4th egg. The three ducklings play with the egg, much to their mother's horror (beautifully played by the fantastic Keiko Amemori). When Ugly hatches she is ostracised by the other ducklings and she runs away when the duck-guard won't let her into the "ducks only".


Ugly's first encounter is with two frogs, whom she tries to emulate. When she finally realises she isn't a frog she goes off again and meets 2 kittens. Her final encounter is with a fox and that section is particularly funny.


As winter sets in Ugly is all alone and the winds creep up around her spreading the snow. There's a lovely dance for the snowflakes/winds before the spring arrives and Ugly has transformed into the beautiful swan that she is. There is a final dance with all the characters before Ugly goes off to join the flock of swans.


I thought the production was absolutely delightful. It really held the children's attention and it was lovely to hear their gasps of amazement at various times during the performance. All the accompanying adults seemed to enjoy it too.


I think the children's ballets that are now starting to appear are a wonderful initiative for introducing young children to the theatre. The Ugly Duckling is a super introduction for young children that can be enjoyed by the adults too! I was talking to a member of the company after the performance and she told me that a lady with 2 young children at the end had said that she had never seen a ballet before and had only brought the children for a half term treat. She had enjoyed it so much herself that she now wanted to book for a "grown up" ballet.

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