Birmingham Royal Ballet recently announced that for the first time ever, they will present a ballet production aimed at children here in their Birmingham Hippodrome home. First Steps: A Child’s Swan Lake will be performed here on Friday 2 October at 1pm. We spoke to BRB Assistant Director Marion Tait ahead of the show to find out more
This is the first time BRB have put on a production specifically aimed at children at Birmingham Hippodrome. Were you finding that there was a demand for more child friendly performances?
“We found that recently the venues around the UK that we take the tours to had been asking for things like pre-performance talks [for the main ballet] and child friendly performances. It was also pointed out to us that a lot of companies already do this type of thing so it’s a case of getting out there and doing what they are doing – only we are doing it better of course!”
Where did the idea for a Child’s Swan Lake come from?
“Our first venture into this kind of production was First Steps: A Child’s Coppélia [performed last season in Edinburgh and Salford]. Coppélia of course, lent itself very well to being adapted for children as it is a comedy and the characters are very accessible. With Swan Lake being our next big production it was the obvious choice. It’s one of the big classics and we hope this will get children interested.”
How does this differ from the original ballet Swan Lake as it is only an hour long?
“Initially I had to sit down and write the script without making it too dark, as the story of Swan Lake is in fact a tragedy. I managed to avoid the darker side of the story and bring more of an emphasis onto introducing the characters. Where we differ from other companies who put on these shows for children and just dance selected excerpts, is that we use an actor who plays a big part in the show to introduce the characters. We are also unique, as in A Child’s Swan Lake our dancers talk as well as dance and mime.
“In the full Swan Lake, when Prince Siegfried and Odette first meet a whole conversation takes place through mime, and it can be hard for adults to know what they are saying to each other through mime, let alone for children to understand! So we are starting off with the dancers talking and then the children in the audience can get up and have a go at miming.”
How did you choose which parts to keep in?
“Visually we wanted to show the children the most spectacular parts of Swan Lake, such as the ballroom scene in Act 3. It actually tailored itself quite well to being condensed without absolutely everybody doing absolutely everything that is in the full length version. Normally Act 3 lasts around 40 minutes but we have it down to 20. We also have the dancers in full costume, and have a full orchestra which is very rare for productions aimed at children.
Also we discovered that with A Child’s Coppélia, because of the age of the children (from 3-7) it’s very hard to keep their concentration on long stretches of dance, regardless of how entertaining it might be for a normal audience, so hopefully we’ve got it right with the inclusion of an actor to break these bits up and the children will love and be captivated by their first ballet experience.”
If a Child’s Swan Lake is well received and a success, do you plan to do more performances aimed at children?
“We hope so! Obviously it would be hard to adapt some classic productions well to a very young audience. For example we’ve tried to think of ways around Romeo & Juliet but you can’t esacpe the fact that the plot ends in two sad deaths, which wouldn’t be suitable for children. However we are very willing to provide ballets aimed at children in the future, and it is something our dancers enjoy doing very much.”
What can children expect from the performance?
“Lots of storytelling, miming and dancing – and also not to expect to have to sit quietly throughout the performance…I think mums will be very pleased by this part! We know the audience and we are happy with them cheering along and actively enjoying the experience. Also, an added bonus will be the chance to meet some of the dancers after the show in the Hippodrome foyer and the chance to have photos taken with them.”
What would you say to parents to encourage them to bring along their children?
“Please do bring them along. They will get the full impact of this fantastic production, with full orchestra and full sets and costumes but all condensed into an hour, with a little bit of interaction. And they can be as noisy as they like!”
First Steps: A Child’s Swan Lake, aimed at children 3-7 years, will take place at Birmingham Hippodrome on Friday 2 October at 1pm. All tickets cost £10 and can be purchased online or by calling our Box Office on 0844 338 5000 (call charges apply). Ahead of the performance, audiences are encouraged to visit www.brb.org/firststeps to download games, colouring sheets and more all explained by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s mascots, George the Lion and Victoria the Unicorn. Birmingham Royal Ballet will be celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. Find out how they will be marking the occasion on their website.