Review: balletLORENT - Rapunzel - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 29 & 30 March 2013
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Wednesday 3 April 2013

balletLORENT  - 'Rapunzel' Photo: Bill Cooper

On Friday I went along with my 11 year old friend Andrew to Sadler’s Wells to see the balletLORENT production of the classic fairy tale Rapunzel. It was a full family affair at the Wells as there were activities from wig making – apropos of the heroine’s famous locks – to country dancing. The latter turned out to be a nice and simple form of square dancing led by a congenial host with a live band. Children of various ages and their adult companions skipped into a circle, clapping and do si do-ing with flush-cheeked delight. This was the only activity in which we happened to partake but younger children seemed well stuck into the arts and crafts on offer, and all the floors were abuzz with pre-show excitement.

The show itself was a decidedly darker affair, although it began with the cross-generational cast in springy and playful scenes of merriment, including maypole dancing and giant bobbing pink balloons. These tableaux melted into each other with seamless gentility, which along with the shimmering score by Murray Gold, established well the “Once upon a time” fairy tale sensibility. The cast included toddlers and their parents in addition to professional ensemble cast members, and several student dancers aged 11-17 from the Centre for Advanced Training at The Place, London. These young dancers really gave it their all and whenever they were on stage the piece sparkled with youthful energy.

After the joyful opening sequences, the tone of the piece descended into the earthy and gothic. Not at all a lighthearted romp – to be fair, not many fairy tales are – Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s scenario for this Rapunzel focuses for the entire first half, on the painful infertility of a husband and wife, danced by Mariusz Raczynski and Debbi Purtill, who mostly climb and roll around on a giant bed frame, suggestive to the adult audience members, of their futile attempts at parenthood. The couple’s longing is mirrored by the single lady next door, who of course happens to be a witch (a deliciously understated and icy Caroline Reece), and whose garden of salad vegetables is coveted by the erstwhile barren wife. Ms Duffy’s descriptions of this longing were visceral, the witch’s desire for an offspring was said to be like that of “a bonfire for a match” or as “the darkness longs for a shooting star.” The story was told in a sumptuous voiceover by Lesley Sharp.

Phillipa White’s Rapunzel, whipping around a headful of something that looked like tangled bright red dreadlocks was, refreshingly, no Disney princess. She clambered around her tower like a feral beast trapped in miserable solitude. But even though there were loads of similarly haunting theatrical images, often facilitated by the leafy iron gates of Phil Eddolls’ sets and the lurking shadows of Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting design, there was very little effort to tell the story through movement on its own.

At the end my young friend Andrew pronounced the show “pretty good” but queried why there wasn’t very much dancing. Director and Choreographer Liv Lorent, with Ms Duffy’s deft assistance as wordsmith, has successfully gone out of her way to develop the story into something that retains the grit of the original but can appeal to a wide audience. In the process, however, she seems to have missed the opportunity to introduce these young audiences to the subtle power of a tale told through the intricacies of dance itself.

04.04.13 – this review was edited to state that the CAT students taking part in this production were from The Place in London – not Dance City in Newcastle upon Tyne, where the piece was developed,as originally stated.

Jeffrey Gordon Baker is a transplanted New Yorker living in London; an artist and writer who has studied art, performance and aesthetics at New York University, Central St Martins and Birkbeck College.

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