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Northern Ballet’s Tortoise and the Hare review – ‘delightfully performed’

Northern Ballet dancers in Tortoise and the Hare. Photo: Brian Slater Northern Ballet dancers in Tortoise and the Hare. Photo: Brian Slater
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Everybody knows that slowcoach Tortoise ambles across the finishing line first in Aesop’s time-hallowed fable, leaving high-speed Hare pipped at the post. Northern Ballet’s fourth ballet for little children and their families ensures that everyone’s a winner, not least the youngsters who are lucky enough to be exposed to such high-quality narrative dance that eases them into an imaginative first-time theatrical experience and takes creativity beyond their classrooms.

In a series of short but sweetly magical episodes, director-choreographers Dreda Blow and Sebastian Loe, who created Northern Ballet’s first children’s ballet, Ugly Duckling, in 2012, and Bruno Merz’s charming live musical score, turn the familiar tale into a warmly engaging new mini-drama, neatly balanced with a moral message about friendship outsmarting racetrack rivalry.

Polished production values, richly coloured sets and deliciously sunny forest creature costumes add visual clarity to physical expressions and zesty dance moves that convey human emotions and flaws.

Perhaps a few more woodland sound effects might add to the unstuffy fun. But there’s no stinting on ballet technique, including immaculately executed pointe work from Jenny Hackwell’s Bumble Bee and two cheerleading Bunnies (Hackwell and Natalia Kerner) performing a nimble pas de deux.

As the buck-toothed Hare, Luke Francis leaps and bounds with fleet-footed athleticism, while, as the plodding Tortoise, Gavin McCaig makes light work of dancing – even cartwheeling – with a shell fixed firmly on his back.

Arts Council England recently awarded the company a grant to continue touring child-friendly ballets for the next three years. It’s money well spent.

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There are no losers in Northern Ballet’s delightfully performed and expertly staged new short ballet for young people