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Creating Elves

Northern Ballet's Ballet Master and creator of Elves & the Shoemaker, Daniel de Andrade, tell us more about our latest ballet for children.

Alongside his work as Northern Ballet’s full-time Ballet Master, Daniel de Andrade has created work for companies including Northern Ballet and Ballet Central as well as creating a piece for Overworlds & Underworlds for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Daniel’s most recent choreographic project was our latest children’s ballet, a delightful retelling of the classic tale Elves & the Shoemaker. We spoke to Daniel to find out more about creating our newest ballet for children.

How did you choose Elves & the Shoemaker for our next children’s ballet?

I was speaking to my wife and two daughters in the car when my wife suggested Elves & the Shoemaker. Surprisingly I’d never heard of this Grimm’s fairytale but when I started to research it that evening I found it to be a very simple story that lends itself well to dance. It’s a really feel-good story because the Shoemaker and his wife are in a sad situation but, with the help of the elves, their lives are turned around and they reciprocate by giving clothes to the elves so they don’t get cold.

What is the process for creating a children’s ballet?

With Elves & the Shoemaker I took the classic story and turned it into a scenario for the ballet which helped me to absorb the story and decide how to present it on stage. For a children’s ballet you have to present it in a very pure way that is easy to interpret. Once you have the scenario then you can start to create the atmosphere around it with the sets, costumes and music to bring everything together. I feel a sense of freedom in creating the children’s ballet because you can be silly knowing that children have fun with it. There’s a kid inside of everyone anyway so tapping into that is useful and also means that parents should find the ballet enjoyable and funny as well.

Tell us about the music for Elves & the Shoemaker.

We’ve commissioned Philip Feeney (Cinderella) to compose a new score for the ballet so it will be set to original music. The story always comes first but I’ve been able to pass all the details on to Philip who has added an extra dimension to the ballet by including little inflections to really bring out the comedy and personalities of the characters. I couldn’t have asked for a better composer, the music sounds fantastic and I just hope my choreography does it justice.

How are the dancers involved with creating the ballet?

The dancers are all skilled professionals who are experienced with creating narrative ballets from scratch. For this project I chose dancers from the Company who I know will do a really good job with the scenario and help with their own creative input. The cast of Elves & the Shoemaker is six dancers to play 12 characters and at the moment I’m creating on Sebastian Loe as the Shoemaker, Olivia Holland as his wife, Filippo Di Vilio and Kiara Flavin as the elves and then Sean Bates and Luisa Rocco do three characters each.

How were the children involved in the creative process?

We worked with a group of schoolchildren who came in to the studios to give feedback during the creation of the ballet. We also had a test audience of children who came to see the finished ballet at preview performances and gave their honest opinion. Children can be brutally honest so the only way to get their true opinion is to ask them. Their reaction was valuable in the latter stages of the creative process where everything was ready but we still had time to tweak it based on their feedback. Children can react and interpret things in unexpected ways so it was important to know that the children were not frightened of anything in the ballet and that they understood what was taking place on stage. With our previous children’s ballet their reaction has generally been positive and we’ve been able to pick out parts that children have responded well to so the dancers can use that to inform their performance and where they should exaggerate what they’re doing.

Why do you think the children’s ballets have been so popular?

There are many reasons why our children’s ballets have been successful. I think that children appreciate the fact that we’ve created something specifically for them and the length of the ballet, being around 40 minutes, is good because they get immediate access to the story and don’t have to sit still for too long. We’ve been very lucky to have this idea to create original ballets for children from our Learning team who identified this opportunity. Most of all Sebastian Loe and Dreda Blow (Ugly Duckling) and Hannah Bateman and Victoria Sibson (Three Little Pigs) created these works of art that parents and children love and I’m looking forward to hopefully doing the same.

Elves & the Shoemaker will tour throughout the UK in 2015.


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