Still hungry for the wolf

30 September 2021

Revisiting an old favourite is always a pleasure for Nina Levy and her young companion, and Peter and the Wolf doesn’t let them down.

Peter and the Wolf, West Australian Ballet and Awesome Festival
Perth Cultural Centre, 29 September 2021

When I was a child we had a record of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and, consequently, whenever I hear Peter’s famous string motif I experience powerful pangs of 1970s tinted nostalgia.

In recent years, the music has acquired another layer of meaning for me. When West Australian Ballet premiered Andries Weidemann’s balletic interpretation of the much-loved score and narration at the 2019 Awesome Festival, I saw it with my friend Lydia and her daughter Holly, then three years old. 

It was Holly’s first ballet and she was absolutely entranced. The impact has been long-lasting; Holly and I have spent many a contented morning presenting our own interpretation of Peter and the Wolf.

Though two years is a long time when you’ve only been around for five, Holly was thrilled to learn that Peter and the Wolf was returning to the stage in this year’s Awesome Festival and plans were swiftly made to view it together.

Commissioned by the Central Children’s Theatre in Moscow in 1936 to introduce children to the instruments of the orchestra, Peter and the Wolf has the feel of a somewhat rebellious fairy tale and this version sticks closely to the original plot (with an entertaining reference to Little Red Riding Hood). 

With a pre-recorded score played by Perth Symphony Orchestra and students from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, the story is narrated by the versatile and charismatic Julia Moody, who morphs from twittery bird to menacing wolf with practised ease.

Though the Wolf’s incarceration in a zoo (for behaving like a wolf) may feel a little arcane to contemporary parents, Weidemann’s comical choreography and Maeli Cherel’s cheerily coloured costumes lend a freshness to the somewhat outdated plot. 

This year’s cast, too, give a zesty performance that delighted Wednesday’s audience. As in WAB’s previous Awesome seasons, the use of relatively young dancers is a smart move for a children’s ballet and an opportunity for the company’s newer members to step outside the corps.

Brent Carson is a cheeky and charming Peter, his buoyant petit allegro well suited to the role. 

Resplendent in plumage of kingfisher blue with splashes of flame-like orange and red, the Bird was one of Holly’s favourites. Beatrice Manser captures this character’s fussy pedantry with her neat footwork. 

Her frenemy, the be-goggled-and-floatied duck, is a delight in fluoro yellow and hot pink. Sarah Ross is gorgeously gawky in this role, particularly delighting those near the front as she dove into their masses. 

Lithe and insouciant, Emma-Rose Barrowclough radiates disdain as the Cat (another favourite of Holly’s), while Rab Flanigan injects just enough comedy into the Wolf to take the edge off (although some younger children did need parental reassurance at certain critical plot points), his fouette sautes pleasingly lofty.

Peter and the Wolf is advertised as being suitable for all ages, and indeed I came across a friend whose almost-one-year-old had enjoyed it enormously, while there were plenty of happy looking grandparents at the other end of the age spectrum. 

As described above, however, younger children may find the antics of the wolf scary (Holly agrees). And while there’s no question that the best seats are on the floor in front of the stage – there are some lovely opportunities for audience interaction – they’re best suited to kids who can cope with the storyline. It might be worth familiarising your kids with it ahead of time.

Peter and the Wolf is charming. And as a free performance that runs for just 35 minutes it’s a perfect way to introduce children to classical ballet.

And Holly? Well, she loved it. Again. 

Junior review by Holly Robotham, age 5 ·

I loved the bird best because she had a beautiful tutu, but the cat was the funniest.

The grandma was also really funny with her big skirt, and I liked how her feet poked out at the bottom. The whole ballet wasn’t funny though.

I sat right at the front and I liked it because I could see the dancer’s shoes.

2023 update: catch Peter and the Wolf at Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, 29 March 2023

Peter and the Wolf continues until 2 October 2021

Pictured top: Emma-Rose Barrowclough as the Cat, Beatrice Manser as the Bird and Brent Carson as Peter. Photo: Bradbury Photography

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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