Atlanta Ballet's 'Peter Pan'
Royal Festival Hall
Atlanta Ballet, one of America's oldest companies make great play of their community roots and it's certainly hard to imagine a better way to demonstrate such spirit than to deliver a Christmas pantomime of a ballet, with a strong story, colourful characters and bold designs.
This year Atlanta, making their UK debut, are filling the Christmas Royal Festival Hall (RFH) family ballet slot and their Peter Pan should be a strong draw for those who want a night out, with some ballet thrown in. This is not high art, but nobody who was there seriously expected that - or probably wanted it indeed.
Atlanta are a tiny company of about 20 young dancers plus 5, or so, apprentices. For the RFH season they have taken on some Central School of Ballet students to give the ensemble numbers more zing. Even so the choreography is not so strong and occasionally the story bogs down with too much going on.
I will come to the stronger bits but while I'm here I have to mention the poor score, conducted on the night by the composer - Carmen DeLeone. It seemed to be a pastiche of Falcon Crest, Dallas, Dynasty, Knotts Landing and every other American 1980's power family drama you ever heard... but less sophisticated.
To compensate, Peter Pan has great and oh-so-slickly-done flying scenes. And it's not just one dancer either - all 4 main characters fly and interact as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The dancers also seem to get hooked up and unhooked seamlessly - yet more magic and, for the older kids (ie me), great fun figuring out how it was done.
The designs (Peter Cazalet) are loud and big - Captain Hook is a great caricature of a villain and well played too I thought. Ditto the Crocodile and Dog.
On the dancers' front John Welker (Peter Pan) was precise, mannered and brought the right sense of wonderment to the role, and Marjorie Hardwick (Tiger Lily) had those strong American legs that can seem to look sharp in anything. But it wasn't really a night for talent spotting in that way and it's probably not what Atlanta are really about. It's easy to see why they share some productions with Northern Ballet Theatre (NBT) - they too are popularist at heart. But Atlanta are a much smaller company and on this showing less technically able overall.
So should you go? Well if you have kids I would take them: they will love the flying scenes and the big designs and characters. But I also hope you can take them to a Nutcracker (money being no object of course!) to see ballet magic as opposed to stage magic with dance.
Peter Pan is playing through to the 8th January 2000 and the box office is on 020 7960 4242