BWW Review: BALLET SHOES, Peacock Theatre
2019 marks the 25th anniversary of London Children's Ballet. Chances are, if you're familiar with the work of LCB, then you already know of their unique and impactful mission and the difference they've made to thousands of young dancers across the UK.
Each year, LCB auditions hopeful performers for a spot in the company. A place comes with an opportunity to perform in the year's annual West End production and to work with exciting emerging choreographers. Most importantly, the opportunity is free. Notable alumni include Anna Rose O'Sullivan (Soloist, The Royal Ballet) William Beagley (Artist, English National Ballet) and Julia Roscoe (Artist, The Royal Ballet).
For this special year, the company has chosen much-loved tale Ballet Shoes - based on the novel by Noel Streatfeild, which tells the story of the three Fossil sisters - and originally choreographed by Cathy Marston. It's revived by LCB alum Ruth Brill, who starred in the very same company production 18 years ago. Since then, Brill has gone on to dance with English National Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, where she has carved out a successful choreographic career for herself.
Brill's updated Ballet Shoes is charmingly staged and leaves much unspoilt from the original production. Scenes are brief and occasionally a little unevenly paced, but concise enough to captivate young audiences.
Annalise Wainwright-Jones (10) is a spritely, wide-eyed Posy who dances neatly and with great charm. Fellow sisters Pauline (Stella Chambaud, 11) and Petrova (Tilda Marriage Massey, 13) both have bags of charisma, which is channelled nicely through their characterisation. Chambaud is brilliantly snarly and stroppy as Pauline's success grows in Act II, while Marriage Massey delivers a hilarious turn in a scene that shows the girls auditioning for Madame Fidolia, demonstrating astute comic timing and well-exaggerated balletic poses that see her fumble and flail.
There are mature performances from the older dancers. Hugh O'Sullivan (16) and Lottie Graham (14), who take the lead roles in A Midsummer Night's Dream (performed by the company Pauline has achieved some stardom with), demonstrate great composure in their pas de deux as Oberon and Titania.
Brill has a flair for the larger ensemble sections. In the complex scenes at Madame Fidolia's Academy for the Performing Arts, dancers flood the stage, but lines are neat and well placed and the overall effect creates a great sense of theatre. Ballet Mistress Laura McCulloch has drilled the young performers well too. The many crowd scenes are detailed and lively, the children uninhibited from reacting to and engaging with the main action. It's clear to see that this Ballet Shoes has been carefully staged to showcase each and every child's vibrant personality.
Kate Ford's colourful costumes are eye-catching and evocative of the 1930s, and the plentiful fairies for A Midsummer Night's Dream look delightful in pastel shades too, while Charlie Camm's set is homely for Uncle Gum's residence and later wonderfully theatrical for Pauline's diva-ish stage door antics.
Having not caught an LCB production in seven years, it was heartening to see how little has changed in quality and maturity of the performances. LCB undeniably has a tangible magic about it that stays with participants for many years after their journey with the company. Now having marked its 25th anniversary, it makes Ruth Brill's story of coming full circle from performing as a child to choreographing as an adult all the more special for this important institution.
Ballet Shoes ran at the Peacock Theatre 4-7 July