Prokofiev Adapted

“Peter and the Wolf”
An In the Wings Production
Hackney Empire, London
March 30 – April 16, 2006

by John Percival
copyright 2006, John Percival


Seventy years it is since the Central Children’s Theatre in Moscow asked Serge Prokofiev to write a symphony specially for children, and the outcome was “Peter and the Wolf”. The idea of a story with each character represented by a different instrument was his, and he wrote the accompanying text himself. It did not take long for its suitability for ballet to become apparent: within four years of its 1936 premiere, choreographers on both sides of the Atlantic used the score. On the third night of the new Ballet Theatre in New York in January 1940, a production by Adolph Bolm was premiered and proved that season’s most successful creation. Praised by John Martin in the New York Times for its skill, imagination, wit and invention, it continued to be given for twenty years. Only four months later Frank Staff’s version for Ballet Rambert was first given in London; it remained in repertoire until 1957 (dropped then because the company changed policy) and was later mounted for other companies. Subsequent versions include Alexei Varlamov’s for the Bolshoi, Elizabeth West’s for Western Theatre Ballet and Patrick Belda’s for Béjart’s company.

So there’s no doubt about how well Prokofiev’s “Peter” fits into a balletic mixed bill, but this production is rather different. It is staged in a recently restored music hall theatre in a working class district by In the Wings, an organisation based in both Belgium and the UK which specialises in making dance productions with live orchestral music for family audiences. (Their “Santa Meets the Ice Dragon” was given on Broadway in 2004.) Was it perhaps the present fashion for medium-length one-subject programmes that prompted their Anne Geenen to commission additional music and text, providing a prologue of schoolchildren in class whose personalities relate to the characters they will play in part two?

Well, the extra music is pleasant enough, by a Dutch composer, Erik van der Wurff, who has previously written several widely performed musicals. But we would hardly expect it to match Prokofiev. Nor does Lori Spee’s somewhat heavy-handed new script come anywhere near the laconic elegance of Prokofiev’s writing. Doug Elkins (whose company from New York has been to Britain more than once) was brought in for the choreography. His characteristic hip-hop style works well enough, and he has effectively added some acrobatic whirling in the air and some playful use of long ribbons for the bird’s wings. The outstanding contribution, however, is that of the designer Paul Gallis. His forest, schoolroom, meadow and big tree provide vivid detail without unduly monopolising space, and the (unexpectedly green) model of a wolf that enters, then disintegrates, at the beginning ensures that the show starts with a fine flourish.

Performances are fine, helped by the presence in the pit of the chamber group called Soloists of the Philharmonia Orchestra, with Mark Stephenson conducting — his experience includes twelve years as director of Rambert Dance Company. An actor, Peter Wickham, puts the text over confidently, and nine specially assembled dancers carry off their roles with enthusiasm. Maurizio Montis proves a cheerfully likeable Peter, and Craig Harrison a credibly hungry Wolf. Also outstanding is Elena Kyprianou as Bird, but the standard is good all through, right to the hunters who have some lively comedy. I wouldn’t say that I was delighted by the show, but it did draw in a full and appreciative audience full of children, including many tiny tots.

Photos by Eric Richmond.

Volume 4, No. 13
April 3, 2006

copyright ©2006 John Percival



©2006 DanceView