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Alberta Ballet breathes new life into the old tale of Hansel and Gretel

By Leonie O’Sullivan, March 14 2024—

Alberta Ballet captivates audiences once again with its ballet production of Hansel and Gretel. Artistic Director Francesco Ventriglia echoed Neil Gaiman’s sentiment at the opening of the performance: “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” In this timeless tale from the Brothers Grimm, siblings Hansel and Gretel successfully slay their “dragon” with resilience and bravery.

The ballet commences with a vintage film countdown, transporting us back to classical times. We witness the unwavering sibling bond between Hansel and Gretel, played by Michael Scott-Kahans and Alexandra Hughes, as they support each other through the adversity of bullies and poverty. Envy consumes the brother and sister as they watch their tormentors indulge in enormous ice creams purchased from an eccentric woman pedalling a steampunk bicycle. This Ice Cream Witch, portrayed by Jennifer Gibson, injects the stage with its first burst of colour, donning a vibrant red dress.

The children arrive home and the audience is treated to the remarkable staging as an element of the set design is rotated to reveal a humble dining room. The siblings engage in a tumultuous scene at the dinner table and are reprimanded by their parents, depicted by Heather Dornian and Aaron Anker. The parents share a touching dance displaying their unconditional love as they move like magnets drawn to one another on the stage. Hansel and Gretel return and mischievously steal the family’s precious loaf of bread and flee together into the forest. 

They leave a trail of breadcrumbs in the forest to guide their way home. However, a squabble of noisy birds, played by the Alberta Ballet School Students, swiftly sweeps up the crumbs, sending the audience into fits of laughter. The siblings realize their error and how lost they are in the forest. They face the ghosts of their bullies, sending fear through their bones. Luckily, they encounter the Sandman, played by Caleb Durbin, who introduces them to the Faeries and protects them as they sleep. The Fairy Queen, Luna Sasaki, flawlessly showcases their impeccable talent with numerous pirouettes, earning a well-deserved round of applause. 

Meanwhile, the witch stealthily sneaks onto the stage and emerges among the Faeries. Once again, the wonderful staging is evident as a gingerbread house materializes before our eyes and lures the children inside. 

The second act begins in striking juxtaposition to the first. The stage is adorned with large illuminated letters spelling out EAT ME, set against a vibrant red and pink backdrop. A lively cabaret of gingerbread men ensues as the children are indulged with abundant servings of desserts. Succumbing to their gluttony, Hansel and Gretel gorge themselves until they drift off to sleep. Meanwhile, the witch descends below the stage and reemerges in a plume of smoke, revealing her true malevolent form with a green face and elongated claws. As their parents grow increasingly anxious, they venture into the forest and encounter the Sandman, who offers guidance in their search.

The audience is immersed in the sinister side of the gingerbread house, where Hansel is fattened up inside a cage. The witch urges Gretel to bellow air into the oven’s fire as she plans to cook Hansel, but Gretel firmly refuses. Annoyed, the witch does it herself, and Gretel seizes her chance to shove her inside the oven. With Gretel’s courageous act, Hansel is saved and they are praised with riches from the gingerbread men. Ultimately, they are reunited with their parents for their hard-earned happily ever after. 

The cast received a standing ovation for their performance of this beloved childhood tale. The dancers, especially those playing Hansel and Gretel, do a fantastic job of sending their emotions into the hearts of the audience members. The meticulously crafted set design, costumes, musical score and choreography collectively contribute to the creation of a captivating story.

If you were unlucky to miss the show in Calgary, it will be running in Edmonton from March 22-24. You can watch Hansel and Gretel confront their dragon by getting your tickets here.

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