Thursday 12 November 2015

Letting the Wild In: Barrowland Ballet's Tiger Tale

Photograph courtesy of Sadlers Wells
It's been a while since I've last been able to blog; an unfortunate hangover from the heady cocktail of moving house, internet deprivation and the classical-sounding but thoroughly unpleasant labyrinthitis. At least marginally recovered from the former (we are still box-city), and set on extricating the Minotaur rumbling around in my inner ear, I'm planning on catching up a little.

Photograph courtesy of Sadlers Wells
A couple of weeks ago we were lucky enough to be invited along to Barrowland Ballet's captivating, multi-sensory, immersive and utterly surprising Tiger Tale. Culturebaby is ever singleminded in her desire to be a Prima Ballerina, and Culturetot is tiptoeing along in her wake, so I thought it would a great opportunity to show them a contemporary ballet, designed for families. It's not all about the tutus and sugar plums...

Tiger Tale is a simple story, told with movement. Although it can be read on a number of levels and was deeply thought provoking for adults, it was also strikingly accessible -  Culturetot at almost two seemed to understand the plot. A family, seemingly unhappy and suffering the mundanity of everyday life, continually and mechanically go through the motions of co-existence. Little love is displayed and the child in particular is driven to frustration and resentment.
Photograph courtesy of Sadlers Wells

Photograph courtesy of Sadlers Wells
Then, alarming yet ultimately delivering salvation, a tiger arrives to turn their home upside down, break down barriers, release their true nature and teach them to love again. Both heartwarming and disturbing (in a positive way), but also funny (the cheeky tiger doesn't stop at the family - he rampages through the audience causing chaos, stealing handbags and curling up on knees), the performance was ideal for the girls. At an hour long it kept them gripped. Their senses were engaged by everything from live music and innovative dance to explosions of colour (splashes of orange to represent the wild breaking through and destroying the sterility of grey space), smells (oranges everywhere!) sudden surprise sounds or arrivals, and ultimately the opportunity to explore the set and become part of the performance.

Photograph courtesy of Sadlers Wells

At the end, the wonderful dancers remained in character and drew in all the children from the audience to play, explore and experience the stage from the inside-out. I couldn't persuade the girls to leave; they even stayed to tidy up. It's hard to do justice to the intimate environment and the joy of participation experienced by all the children in the audience, but I've captured some of this with the photographs. Barrowland will be touring again next year and I'd highly recommend it for all children - toddlers upwards. The Sadlers Wells family programme was a new discovery for us last year, and this is only one of a diverse wealth of other interactive and exciting events for children.


To accompany the show, there's a trio of great picture books to share with younger children. The obvious choice, of course, is The Tiger who Came to Tea, by Judith Kerr. A perennial, and probably eternal, children's favourite, this classic needs little introduction. Though rather gentler in his occupation of home, the effect of Kerr's Tiger is not dissimilar to Barrowland's. Life and routine is turned on its head, the cupboards are laid bare, bathtime is cancelled and dinner becomes an exciting experience. Another quirky classic and favourite in our household is Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are. Written in 1963, I don't particularly remember this as a child, but Culturebaby received it as a present and immediately loved it. Young Max - clad in wolf costume - is sent to his room for wreaking havoc. From there he is transported to an island inhabited by ferocious beasts, which he intimidates and goes on to rule. It's a wonderful comment on the toddler's ability to behave in an entirely impulsive and feral way, and moments later return as if nothing happened to sanity and a hot meal.

Finally, we've recently discovered the gorgeous illustrations of Emily Hughes in her original picture book Wild, about a child brought up by nature and its many beasts. With teachers such as birds and bears, the child when 'rescued' by well meaning adults, cannot let go of her instinct for the wild and cannot comprehend the odd behaviour of civilized society. She returns to her roots and takes the family pets with her. It's a stunningly illustrated and thought provoking book from the brilliant British Indie publisher Flying Eye Books. I love what Brain Pickings wrote about it:
" Emanating from the playful and poetic story is a clarion call to shake off the external should’s that shackle us and stop keeping ourselves small by trying to please others, to celebrate what John Steinbeck called “the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected”. It is an invitation, at once tender and mischievous, to pause and ask, as Mary Oliver memorably did: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
 Disclaimer: We were offered tickets to the performance in exchange for an honest review. We all thought the whole experience was simply brilliant! We also received a copy of Wild for review purposes.

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