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Tuesday, July 2, 2013


(The Angels scene. Pic by John Hogg)

An absolutely fantastic production. (Review by Keith Millar)

With magnificent choreography, dazzling sets, glorious music and exquisite dancing, Hansel and Gretel is an absolutely fantastic production. To see a company of young dancers performing with such unfettered delight, exuberance and passion is an unquestionable joy, and enough to bring a tear to the eye.

The Johannesburg Youth Ballet Company currently has 55 dancers ranging in age from 13 to the early twenties. They commissioned their two act Ballet based on the fairytale Hansel and Gretel in 2012. This year, as part of their 2013 tour, they brought the production to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown for two performances in the Guy Butler Theatre at the Settlers Monument.

The ballet provides everything an audience could wish for from the Brother Grim’s 200 year old fable. A scary forest that moves, a terrifying witch, an evil stepmother, an edible gingerbread house, devastating poverty and hunger and the desolation of abandonment. Then there are angels, birds, fireflies, night creatures, fire spirits, a swan, the sandman and four beautiful jewels.

Adding their considerable skill to this production are three of South Africa’s icons of the entertainment industry.

 Imaging and choreography is by the legendry Mark Hawkins who has been in the forefront of South African dance for the past 30 years. He has created a captivating and awe-inspiring narrative ballet which appeals to all ages.

The original score for Hansel and Gretel was composed by Nik Sakellarides. He has 25 years’ experience in writing music for the film and television industry. He used all this creative expertise and knowledge to compose a wonderfully evocative and dramatic score. It is truly a magnificent piece of music which can stand on its own as a masterpiece. In fact, I bought the CD.

International set and costume designer, Andre Botha, is another 30 year veteran who applied his skills to this production. His sets, costumes and animation design, combined with the AV and projection expertise of Malcolm Finlay has created a magical backdrop for the ballet.

It is wonderful that these luminaries have made such a meaningful contribution to youth development in the arts.

Gretel was danced by Jaimee Mills and Hansel by Lwazi Mzimase while the role of the father was taken by guest star Nigel Hannah. However, the entire cast deserves the credit for an amazing, glittering and moving performance. I have always believed that dance is for the young, who are supple, flexible and fearless and nothing I saw in this production has changed that opinion. All of them showed grace, elegance, strength and co-ordination which hinted at the many hours of practice and rehearsal they must have put in.

There were many young people in the audience and I am willing to bet that by the end of the show all the girls, and not a few of the boys, were demanding ballet lessons.

Johannesburg Youth Ballet will be performing Hansel and Gretel in Johannesburg from August 13 to 18 and in Durban from September 19 to 21. Don’t miss it! Get your tickets now! – Keith Millar