London Children’s Ballet’s Snow White gives talented young dancers an opportunity to shine and provides enchanting entertainment that the whole family can enjoy.
What better way to round off the Easter holidays than to join a 50-strong cast of girls and boys (aged 9 to 16) at London’s Peacock Theatre for a fresh interpretation of a much-loved fairy tale? Performers and audience members alike are delighting in this treat of a production, which incorporates joyous dancing, original music played live by an orchestra, stunning sets and colourful costumes.
Yes, the show is performed by children, with families in mind. But it really is a West End worthy offering. These dancers are sweetly professional to the core. Furthermore, some of the most accomplished and ambitious creatives in the land have teamed up to showcase the youngsters’ skills and enthuse the next generation of dance lovers.
Established in 1994 and currently led by artistic director Ruth Brill, London Children’s Ballet (LCB) is a unique charity that strives to inspire excellence and change lives through dance. Each year, following competitive open auditions, up to 50 young dancers are invited to unite as a company and perform in a professionally produced full-length ballet at a West End theatre. An additional 50 or so dancers are selected for LCB’s touring companies, which take a specially adapted version of the stage production out into the community. Significantly, LCB does not discriminate on grounds of height, shape or income – children are chosen based on their ability and participation is free of charge. The successful children (and their proud parents) commit to a training and rehearsal process that culminates in the performances. Going by the palpable energy and excitement at an LCB event, everyone obviously relishes the experience.
An LCB production is the perfect introduction to ballet for newcomers, as well as a celebration of what has been achieved by everyone involved, so each performance opens with a brief preamble. Ruth Brill welcomes the audience and issues a gentle reminder of theatre etiquette (no photography or filming, please), then three cast members share their thoughts on what dancing – and being part of LCB – means to them. They also explain that dancers do not normally speak in ballet, before demonstrating the three key mime gestures that are used in Snow White: ‘king’ or ‘queen’ (placing a hand above the head to indicate a crown), ‘dance’ (holding both arms high above the head and circling the hands around one another) and ‘death’ (crossing the arms in front of the body).
This year’s production, which is directed and choreographed by Northern Ballet dancer Gavin McCaig, is LCB’s third adaptation of Snow White. The new scenario effortlessly lends itself to lots of dancing – it features a persistent dancing master, a birthday party, two reunions and a wedding! The big change from the traditional story is that the dwarfs are replaced with a displaced family of huntspeople. The evil queen’s poisoned apple remains as enticing as ever though.
The story begins with a young queen (13-year-old Lily Routledge, who later dances the role of a faithful dove that guides and protects Snow White) insisting on venturing outside to admire the snow, despite being heavily pregnant. She is caught in a snowstorm and dies in childbirth, leaving the king (14-year-old Taylor Ticehurst) alone to raise his newborn daughter. McCaig’s choreography for the snowflakes and icicles is a suitably swirling spectacle of continuous movement. The flurry includes hops and leaps, drifting runs and geometric corps de ballet patterns. Pleasingly, each of the dancers is also afforded some degree of individuality. This guarantees that every child has a special moment and the blizzard is never boring.
Nine years after her birth and the death of her mother, young Snow White (11-year-old Giulietta Aitken) is cared for by her loving nurse (14-year-old Matilda Russell) and taught to waltz by the dancing master (14-year-old Anton Broad). The king has remarried and his new wife, the queen (14-year-old Harriet Mears), secretly despises Snow White. Here, the choreography for the young Snow White and her spirited dancing friends is playful and the arrival of the queen is attention-grabbing. Harriet Mears is in her element as the wicked stepmother, scowling, sulking and stalking through a tango-esque routine.
Seven more years pass and it is Snow White’s sixteenth birthday. The queen is horrified when her magic mirror reveals that Snow White (14-year-old Scarlett Monahan) is now ‘the fairest of them all’. Egged on by her feathered accomplice, the raven (15-year-old Fred Sweetman), the queen summons her huntsman, Robert (14-year-old John Holden), and instructs him to kill Snow White. He refuses, so she hypnotises him with her magic necklace. The spell is strong, but his conscience prevails. Snow White flees, tainted fruit makes an appearance, Robert realises he has lost the love of his life and a kiss changes everything.
Scarlett Monahan is gentle and graceful in the title role. Her heartfelt interpretation ensures all of Snow White’s interactions and relationships feel genuine. The birthday party is another example of the care McCaig has taken to create choreography that shows the dancers at their best and gives everyone time in the spotlight. The scene includes an elegantly exuberant jester (12-year-old Fyfe Skinner), cartwheeling acrobats (11-year-old Hadassah Allen and 12-year-old Frederic de Almeida Whitehouse) and merry party guests.
The atmosphere in the auditorium satisfactorily evolves from anticipation to awe. The very youngest theatregoers, some dressed in Disney Snow White costumes or ballet-themed outfits, peer into the orchestra pit before clambering onto plush red seats. The show begins and, as the snowflakes and icicles dance, a little voice exclaims, “they can jump really high!”. There is, of course, enough time in between the two well-paced 40-minute acts to queue for an interval ice-cream. And have another look at those marvellous musicians who, under the direction of Philip Hesketh, perform composer Richard Norriss’ lovely score.
Hopefully, some of those little ones will be inspired to take up dancing or learn to play a musical instrument. Ultimately, theatregoers of all ages who attend a performance of this production are blessed with two wholesome hours of fairy-tale escapism. Striking sets depict the wondrous beauty of a wintery landscape, the gilded luxury of the palace and the depths of a leafy forest. Vibrant, varied costumes (designed by Sarah Godwin) sparkle, swish and sway. Expressive, well-drilled dancers embody their roles with gusto and aplomb.
The quality of Snow White ably demonstrates LCB’s commitment to nurturing classical technique, telling captivating stories and connecting with an audience. What’s more, the scope of the charity’s work demonstrates its commitment to sharing the joy of dance and having a positive impact on people’s lives. There is a happy ending waiting for performers, spectators and supporters: one bite of the LCB apple and dancing dreams look set to come true.
*Production photography by Amber Hunt (Photography by ASH).
London Children’s Ballet’s Snow White continues at Peacock Theatre on Sunday 16 April 2023, with performances at 12.30pm and 4.30pm.
Running time: Approximately 2 hours, including one 20-minute interval.
Age guidance: 3+
To learn more about dancing with, and supporting, London Children’s Ballet, visit the LCB website and follow @lcbballet on Instagram and @lcblondon on Twitter.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.