Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Hansel and Gretel”
Saturday, 27 March 2010, 1:00 p.m.
by Dean Speer
Every now and then, happy circumstances come together to create magic. One of these spells was cast with PNB’s recent story ballet performed by a cohort of students from PNB School, Bruce Wells' Reader’s Digest version of that cautionary tale, “Hansel and Gretel.”
Wells knows how to choreograph and it shows. He envisions the theatrical elements necessary to produce a whole product: introducing the characters, telling the story, bringing the characters back and giving us a grand finale in the old tradition.
He understands compositional elements and tools and deploys them effectively. These are professional level dances performed by students who more than rise to the occasion. For example, I liked how groups were arranged and broken up by patterns, formations, and different musical phrasing. Unison was used sparingly – thereby making a bigger visual impact. The parts of the whole summed up to an engaging ballet that kept our interest and appealed to our imagination.
Several audience members around me commented, “That was really good!” And it was. A list of those who were particularly good and outstanding, partly due to being cast in solo roles were Jordan Veit whose long line and talent make him a natural and PNB Principal Dancer Ariana Lallone in the dual role of the Stepmother and Wicked Witch. Lallone has a comic gift and it was fun seeing her being able to let loose in this part. Particularly funny was the moment when she pulls out a measuring tape to see if Hansel will “measure up” to her greedy appetite. In terms of visual gags, it would have been fun, if at the end, as the freed gingerbread men came through her candy house, they brought her out – but as a baked cookie. I’ve seen this in some versions of the opera, and it’s a fitting conclusion.
I’ve observed Veit in the PNB School over the last several years and remarked to myself that here is a talent that will go somewhere. His technique is outstanding and continues to develop and refine each year. He turns and jumps well and seems to be comfortable on stage.
Wells also gave many opportunities to the men – as the Witch’s cats, as Star Catchers, one as the Poor Woodcutter – Steven Loch – who is also someone destined to go places with his equally long line, technique, and good acting abilities. His line nicely matched Veit’s so it was an easy leap to imagine them as father/son.
Charming but not in a sentimental way were the title characters danced nicely by Chandler Sharp and Amelia Jay. Each were the right size, age, and had just the right amount of technique and experience for these young characters.
My only wish is that this good, solid ballet might someday be included in the main subscription series. I know there would be issues to be worked out but I believe audiences would enjoy it and not find it too “studenty” in any way.