The English National Ballet‘s My First Ballet series is aimed at children over three years old. The performances are shorter, simplified versions of popular classics: Cinderella, Coppelia and Swan Lake have all been staged since the series began in 2012.Sleeping Beauty is the current adaptation, and we were invited to see it when the performance returned to the Peacock Theatre in London.
My First Ballet shows are narrated, which helps make them more accessible to a young audience. For this performance, an older Princess Aurora stood at the side of the stage, describing the story and translating some of the moves: the arm gestures for ‘prick her finger, and die’ were emphasised and repeated enough for my four-year-old daughter to be able to mimic them all the way home.
Tchaikovsky’s music had been adapted for this shorter performance. On a couple of occasions the narrator had to battle to be heard above the music, which was well-crafted to fit around the truncated action; when the wicked fairy Carabosse made an entrance to curse Aurora at her christening, the crescendo was dramatic enough to send my daughter running out of the auditorium in fear. But, as with all good family-friendly shows, there were no raised eyebrows, and we were able to walk back in to see the rest of the action once Carabosse and her evil helpers had exited the stage.
Sleeping Beauty is an hour long, with an interval, which felt like just about the right length. The second half was more captivating than the first, as the plot slowed down, allowing for longer dance sequences and less description of the story. A particularly engaging sequence saw the Prince walking through a wood to try and find the sleeping Aurora, and running into Red Riding Hood with the wolf, as well as two white cats, who demonstrated some eye-catching feline dance moves.
My First Ballet was well-pitched for its audience. Her terror at the fearsome Carabosse meant my young daughter had mixed feelings about the show – and older enthusiasts may prefer to see more dancing, with less talking – but as an introduction to ballet performances, the elegant costumes and graceful moves in Sleeping Beauty left my daughter keen to experience more.
You can read a revieew of another My First Ballet production, Swan Lake, here.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.