Hansel and Gretel at Hamilton Place (FEB 26)

Hansel and Gretel is a unique, unusual fairy tale. It defies time and imagination. It has moved many world institutions to establish foundations to help abused children.It carries a powerful, tender message of love and of compassion among siblings and families. In a timely and beautiful fashion it coincides nicely with Canada’s national celebration of Family Day on February 16.

First published by brothers Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm in 19th century Germany, Hansel and Gretel vividly portrays the triumph of the human spirit over the hardships of famine, war and child abandonment in medieval life. Threatened by starvation little Hansel and his sister Gretel get lost in the forest much to the dismay of their woodcutter father. Although the children are terrified of the wilderness, they refuse to give up hope and devise ingenious ways to stay alive. Shortly after fending off the evil plans of the forest witch who was determined to make a meal of the children, Hansel and Gretel escape their appointment with the boiling cauldron, run away grabbing the witch’s fortune and are happily reunited with their loving father.

For nearly two hundred years children all over the world have heard the bedtime story. It frightened and delighted them. It also taught them that good always triumphs over evil.   Retold and printed countless of times, the fable inspired operas and movies. It has also become a timeless tribute to the Brothers Grimms whose extraordinary foresight and creativity also gave the world’s children such classics as Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Cinderella.     

Now, it’s story-time at Hamilton. Staged among lush, surreal forest settings and lavishly interpreted by the Cuban National Ballet in partnership with the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble, the Hansel and Gretel ballet comes alive at Hamilton Place on February 26. It will be a joy to watch particularly because well over one hundred Canadian youngsters are about to share the stage with the Cuban performers, The local talent will assume the roles of dancing flowers, witches, cats and otherworldly visions in a production that promises to fulfill the most demanding wishes of the audience.    

In a radical departure from traditional theatre the dancers in both companies are dedicating the show “to the underprivileged children of the world who spend their daily lives hunting for meagre findings in the artificial forests of the developed world,” according to Belma Gurdil-Diamante, CEO of the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble.       

Such noble purpose makes the presentation of Hansel and Gretel both an auspicious and inevitable occasion: inevitable because the Cuban National Ballet has carved a rather special niche in the heart of the city, its home away from home. Auspicious because once again its founder and artistic director Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso is sending us the very best of her company with brilliant dancer and choreographer Eduardo Blanco and gifted ballet master Kenia García heading the star-studded cast.
Eduardo’s vivid, creative choreography has produced an amazing adventure that will astonish the public. Playing the main characters in the one-act, five scenes’ ballet will be Cuban principal dancers Ely Regina Hernández in the role of Gretel; Yadil Suarez as Hansel and Denisse Salvent as the witch. Also under the marvellous guidance of Eduardo and Kenia, the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble has been working around the clock learning and rehearsing the rest of the roles. Strengthened by the performers’ mutual, professional respect and by their superb discipline, Hansel and Gretel will certainly transform into a magic vehicle for the dancers’ boundless enthusiasm. Their dedication speaks volumes for the universal language of dance.

Hansel and Gretel’s music by Jules Massenet, Richard Wagner, Sergei Prokofiev and Joseph Luigini together with imaginative set designs by Ricardo Reynema, Eduardo Romero and Luis Carlos Bienvenido are the icing on the cake. Altogether it’s a formidable formula for success.

More over, Hansel and Gretel fits nicely with the Canadian celebration of Family Day. Both Alicia and Eduardo love making ballet for children. During a recent interview with Gary Smith, the Hamilton Spectator art critic, Eduardo expressed his excitement about “creating a Canadian ballet for children and taking it to perform in Cuba.” I have no doubt that it will happen.  

On the other hand Alicia Alonso truly adores every member of the Cuban National Ballet as well as all her young students in the Cuban National School of Ballet. She feels for them as if they were her own children. At 87 years-young the doting mother and grandmother believes in them, encourages their quest to reach their highest potential, provides unconditional support in adversity and joyously share and celebrates every one of their triumphs. Her philosophy is as unpretentious as it is straight forward, “There is nothing more honest than a child. When they see truth, they speak the truth. They are very pure. When they do something bad, they feel guilty. When they do something good, they want to hear about it, to be recognized. They feel injustice.”

The uniquely Cuban version of Hansel and Gretel obviously reflects Alicia’s profound beliefs on family values and human kindness. It also inspired the decision of both ensembles to honour children everywhere. Such values have justly earned international accolades to the tightly-knit family of Cuban dancers. Already recognized among the best five ballet companies in the world, the Cuban National Ballet takes just as much pride in striving for perfection as they do in performing for the less fortunate at home and abroad as they did in Cuba immediately after hurricanes devastated the island last summer. With this generous spirit in body and soul, we are in for a spectacular treat. Hansel and Gretel will provide a brilliant showcase for the talented performers from both nations and an unforgettable evening for the audience.  

“We are absolutely thrilled to host the Cuban National Ballet in Hamilton again,” said Gurdil-Diamante, “Every one of their performances is a major contribution to the cultural fabric of the city and of Canada. In fact, the partnership between the Cuban National Ballet and the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble is the stuff of dreams. As far as master choreographer Eduardo Blanco is concerned, he is an absolute genius. From him we expect nothing but the best. People will fall in love with his inspirational pageantry and will certainly remember his artistic, creative choreography for years to come.”

A Special School Matinee of Hansel and Gretel will be performed at Hamilton Place on Thursday, February 26 at 10:30 AM. School tickets can be ordered on line calling 905-512-1453.

On Thursday, February 26 Hansel and Gretel’s Public Performance will take place at 7:30 PM at Hamilton Place. Tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.ca, phones (905) 527-7666, (905) 546-4040 or www.hecfi.ca

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