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Sunday, May 26, 2013


(Thula Cruikshank and Megan Meyer. Pic by Lauren Davids)

Highly professional production from Johannesburg Youth Ballet a must for NAF 2013. (Review by Caroline Smart)

An absolute must for ballet lovers at this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown will be the Johannesburg Youth Ballet’s two-act production of Hansel and Gretel.

I saw it last year when it had its world premiere at the University of Johannesburg’s recently revamped UJ Arts Centre Theatre and it’s a pure delight.

The highly professional direction and choreography by Mark Hawkins supported by assistant choreographer, Kate Martin, puts this ballet presentation fairly and squarely at a mainstream level.

Long associated with creating awe-inspiring costumes and sets for ballet productions for many years, Andrew Botha once again works his magical genius with a mixture of photographic panels and images played onto the backdrop. This included some delicious-looking biscuits and chocolates in the finale.

For me, the biggest excitement of the evening was Nik Sakellarides’ superb orchestral score. There is a dark side to Hansel and Gretel, as there is in most of the Brothers Grimm fairytales and this element was explored to the fullest in his sweeping music. If this score isn’t available on CD, then I think it should be. The music is memorable - by the second act, I found I was already humming the main theme.

Adding a further dramatic element to the scary scenes was the impressive AV and projection by Malcolm Finlay of PENMAC, and lighting design by Jean-Claude Laurent.

Working alongside guest artist Nigel Hannah as the father, the youthful dancers displayed a high standard of professional performance. At the performance I attended, Megan Meyer and Thula Cruikshank portrayed Hansel and Gretel with a charming and lively energy. Doubling as the Mother and the Witch was Roswyn Finlay with Kayla Schultze as the White Swan and Yusuf Thomas as the Sandman.

Further notable performances came from the Jewels with Jamie Mills as Amethyst; Aviva Sher as Zircon; Kiruna Devar as Tourmaline and Natasha Heuser as Citrine.

The technical side was just as efficient with scene changes happening swiftly and efficiently. The uplifting of the little angel was gloriously celestial and beautifully handled. Just to prove the versatility of the company, there was a gymnastic sequence in jeans and T-shirts which was rather an incongruous note but achieved the aim of the exercise.

Hansel and Gretel can be seen at the National Arts Festival in the Guy Butler Theatre on June 27 at 19h00 and June 28 at 1hh00 and 19h00. Duration 75 minutes.

For more information, click on the National Arts Festival banner advert at the top of this page and search for the dance programmes. – Caroline Smart