Presented by: The Royal New Zealand Ballet
Opera House, 6th Nov 2019
Reviewed by: Leah Maclean
The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s iteration of the classic Brothers Grimm tale is the ‘swan song’ of long-standing company member and choreographer in residence, Loughlan Prior. Hansel & Gretel is Prior’s first full-length work and with Claire Cowan’s original music and Kate Hawley’s design, it is both terrifying and utterly enchanting.
With flourishes of glitter and looming shadows, the production is gothic noir meets carnival candy floss. In the opening act, which evokes stylish silent cinema, we are introduced to the grim lives of Hansel and Gretel, danced by Shaun James Kelly and Kirby Selchow. The siblings are bullied mercilessly by their peers and come from a fragile homelife, relying on one another for both childhood cheer and comfort. Kelly and Selchow perform with tender joy and demonstrate an excellent stage dynamic. Their duets are refined and in-sync, and their harmony remains dominant throughout.
The work journeys through an expressionistic backdrop and is home to all manner of peculiar characters; exaggerated Donnie Darko-esque rabbits tiptoe through a forest of forks, a moon of cheese watches through the night with an ice-cream lodged into its right eye (a lá A Trip to the Moon), and the charismatic witch, eloquently performed by Katharine Precourt, shimmies across the stage like a theatrical talk show host. The heart of the production is a rich and beloved story and the dancers are forced to explore more than just pirouettes and pliés. Kudos to Paul Matthews, often the picture of refinement, for playing the transformed witch with absurd panache.
Hansel & Gretel has many moving parts but manages to deliver a cinematic theatre experience. Hawley’s costume and set design drip with glamour and magic and Cowan’s composition (performed by Orchestra Wellington) is bold and timeless. With Prior’s distinctive choreographic flair, the collaborators have created a fantastical pastiche which is fully supported by a passionate cast of dancers.
Bursting with unique artistry, surrealism, and dexterous humour, Hansel & Gretel is a production bound to enchant the masses.