During October half term, my son, Bear and I were invited to watch a First Direct / Northern Ballet performance of a family ballet, Goldilocks and the 3 Bears, in Leeds and to be a FDMiniCritic He was excited at the thought of it but when he got there, he really fell into the role. Bear with me, there’s a lot of mention of Bear’s in this review.
Prior to the day, Bear was so very generously sent a box of goodies to build the day into a full experience. He was sent all he needed to set up a Teddy Bear’s Picnic (including a magnificent Build a Bear) and so what else could I do other than make that happen? Watch the video if you’d like to see the other wonderful things that he was sent.
So the stage was set, bear sandwiches were made, bear crisps were consumed and bear cake was treasured. It was a true Teddy Bears Picnic in every way.
We ate our picnic, read stories and chatted about what a ballet was like before heading to the train with his trusty new bear clutched in his arms.
When we arrived, we were shown into a craft room where people were waiting to help Bear make either a Goldilocks hair crown witch curly locks or a teddy bear headband. My Bear chose to make a bear headband. When we returned to the foyer of The Northern Ballet, I treated him to an ice cream and had a seat on the great big Daddy bear’s chair.
Soon it was time to go into the performance and take our seats. It was a small auditorium but that made it more intimate, lighter and less scary for the younger children. I was so happy to see a small orchestra in the corner – a cello, clarinet, keyboard and others. I don’t think I had expected that and I was so happy to be able to point out the instruments to Bear and draw his attention to them at points during the performance.
The story begins with Goldilocks, in the kitchen with her mother, baking a cake and preparing dinner. The music is light, upbeat and the dancers are beautiful. I’m sure I saw a puff of smoke when they opened the oven door.
Goldilocks is tempted outside by a beautiful and mesmerising peacock. His costume is gorgeous – my favourite colours and my goodness, his legs! His dancing was exquisite. All the dancers danced with such skill but his costume allowed you to see the leg and footwork in better detail.
I think we all know the rest of the story and so I won’t run through the show in that way but I want to talk about how the dancers conveyed the story. You may or may not know that there is no narration during a ballet and so you rely on facial expression, body movement and the way the dancers interact to understand the story. Obviously this is much easier when it’s a well known production such as Goldilocks and Bear and I had read it multiple times before going but it would’t matter if you hadn’t done this as they acted it out so well.
Bear followed the story really well but like a lot of parent’s there, I didn’t want him to miss anything and get lost and lose interest and so I did whisper a few things such as “oh the peacock doesn’t want her to go in there does he?” or “what does she think about Daddy Bear’s porridge? It’s too hot isn’t it?” etc. I think if he were a little bit older (he is 4yrs 9 months) I wouldn’t have but he is just at the stage of being able to sit for a whole film at the cinema but has once or twice asked when a film will finish and I didn’t want that to happen here. I needn’t have worried as the show lasted for approximately 40 minutes which was a perfect length. One or two very young children or maybe even babes in arms, began to cry about 5 minutes before the show ended but there were no restless children up and down and wriggling in their seats that I could see. Lots of people took snacks and drinks but I think most children were engrossed.
This was such a brilliant experience and I feel so privileged on Bear’s behalf. My own as well as this was my first ever ballet. I have been to the Theatre and Opera and have seen a live stream of Swan Lake Ballet at my local cinema but this was the first time for me with live music and the true atmosphere. I’m 37 and so my son has beat my for a first experience by 32 and a bit years. Lucky boy.
So, that is a parents perspective but let me give you Bear’s thoughts.
Straight away, before we gathered our belongings, I asked what he thought.
AhhMazing Mummy. I loved it.
A gentleman asked him which bit did he like best?
All of it. Every bit. I liked Baby Bear.
Later, I asked why did he like Baby Bear the best?
because he was happy and smiled lots….he fell over and was funny!
I didn’t realise that the ballet would be suitable for children or that First Direct and the Northern Ballet produce a family ballet every year and tour the country. They have in other years, performed The Ugly Duckling, The 3 Little Pigs, Elves and The Shoemaker and The Tortoise and the Hare and a new one will be announced for next year. We will definitely be returning to watch the next show. I love to open up Bear’s world. I feel that it’s my job to let him experience as much as possible and see what the world has to offer and also, show him where his life could take him if he wanted. The Ballet is such a privilege to watch and was a wonderful experience for us.
For more information, please check out the First Direct Mini Critic page
Next came a special treat that we were so lucky to receive. We were given a behind the scenes tour of the set and were even told some of the set secrets by the gentleman that is in charge of setting it all up, dismantling it and loading and unloading it from the van every day.
Let me first say that my goodness do they all work so hard. The performance runs 2 or 3 times a day, 6 days a week, for approximately 8 weeks. The set is driven to its destination and needs to be unloaded, set up, the stage swept and mopped within 2/2.5hrs. Sometimes the stage isn’t on the ground floor and so it has to go up an down in lifts or even lifted up and down stairs. This is all done by the 3 crew members and occasionally one or two member of the the theatre staff. Wait until you see it closer up in the pictures. Most parts are wooden and then moulded and painted.
When it was time for questions, I was so proud of Bear who put his hand up and waited so patiently (a new thing that has come home from school) and then asked:
How do you build it?
The gentleman explained that on most pieces, the base and in this case, the footplate / doorstep, was like a skateboard made out of wood and the door is a sail that is screwed on and the taken apart, overtime the show moved location.
We were told that all the decorations and bits and bobs that are used to dress the set such as the cups and jug on the mantle in Goldilocks’ house and the flowers and photos in the 3 bears house (the photos are of the actual dancers playing the role) are stuck on with simple velcro. It keeps them stable and in place when the set is in use and moved on stage but can easily and quickly be removed and packed safely when it’s time to pack up.
We were then told that during the performance, one of the stage guys actually crouches behind the oven when it is open and pushes a puff of smoke through a tube, perfectly timed to look like steam when the oven door is opened. I knew I had seen it! Such a little touch that helps to create the atmosphere and build the story but requires timing it to the music and the dancer.
At certain points during the performance, the set is changed from Goldilocks’ house to the woods, to the 3 Bears front door and to inside their house and back again, numerous times. Mostly, it is the dancers who do this with such poise and grace and the children were given the chance to see how heavy the set is.
It took Bear and 3 other children, quite a bit of effort to get the set moving but once it had momentum, they moved it a fair way. Kudos to the dancers who mostly perform more than one character, 2 or 3 times a day and move the set during the performance.
We were given the opportunity to take some photos on set and Bear found it so exciting. He turned into the paparazzi and I can’t wait to get his photo’s developed!
Sadly, it was time for us to go home after a wonderful afternoon and evening. We grabbed some tea and took our train home, chatting all the way about the ballet and the set. Bear was so enthused about the new world that had opened up to him and I loved listening to him chatting away to the other passengers about what we had been up to. I turned and asked him if he had had a nice day. He threw his arms around me and said
it was the best day Mummy…..I love Goldilocks but she’s very naughty!
*Disclosure: We were sent a box of goodies and received tickets to the ballet for the purpose of this review but all views and thoughts are as ever, all my own.