Choreographer Mark Hawkins has devised an enchanting new ballet, Hansel and Gretel, for the Johannesburg Youth Ballet Company. He cleverly combines the simple and manageable with the opulent and striking and achieves a high level of sophistication and enchantment. With magnificent projections, rich musical score and the eagerness of youth, Hansel and Gretel deserves all the accolades it receives
he Johannesburg Youth Ballet celebrates almost 40 years of existence as a company that broke boundaries and triumphed in its quest for excellence. With a string of achievements, both national and international to its name, it can now add a further success: Hansel and Gretel. For, while this production makes intelligent and free use of the new media that gives it such a polished edge, this does not detract from the fact that the young people are dancing to classical standards.
On the night I attended Jaimee Mills played Gretel with grace and style and was beautifully supported by Lwazi Mzimase in the role of Hansel. Their chemistry was good and they matched each other both physically and emotionally; portraying the loyal siblings with endearing warmth. Guest artist Nigel Hannah played the distraught woodcutter with light expertise and twinkling footwork, while the wicked stepmother was given the right level of robust nastiness by Roswyn Finch, who reappeared in glorious purple and green to get her come-uppance as the witch.
The first act, when Hansel and Gretal are famously expelled into the dark scariness of the wood by their reluctant father, was filled with charming and diverse devises to create dance magic. With fireflies, angels, birds and night creatures appearing to the siblings, the members of the company had a chance to explore different choreographic styles and show off their beautiful costumes to good advantage. The exquisitely costumed fire spirits, which arose out of the little fire keeping the brother and sister warm, were particularly lovely to watch; the sequence including some contemporary, almost jazzy movements.
The second act opened with the discovery of the tempting gingerbread house, and the children gorged on the forbidden sweets in spite of the advice of the gracious swan. The appearance of the witch and her wicked intensions to fatten up poor Hansel are clearly enacted and the stove was cunningly contrived to give the sensation of intense heat. All ended well, of course, and Hawkins, with support by Trish Krinsky, kept a welcome surprise up his sleeve for the finale.
The sumptuous music score was created by Nikki Saks; it is a rich and varied score that perfectly accompanies the various scenes and marks the key scenes with tuneful motifs. The team, comprising set, costume and animation design by the multi-talented Andrew Botha, lighting design by Jean-Claude Laurent and AV and Projection by Malcolm Finlay all have long years of experience and many successful productions to their names.
For the many young people involved in ballet in Durban Hansel and Gretel is an inspiration as it combines sound principles, with good corps de ballet work and excellence in solo performance. The whole package was wrapped in the magic and thrill of enchantment. As Artistic Director of NAF - Ismail Mohamed said in his programme notes: “I extend my most sincere appreciation to the JYB for giving us the optimism that the future of classical dance in South Africa is being nurtured with love and dedication by this young generation.”