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'Why shouldn’t Peter be a girl?': The cast of Birmingham Royal Ballet's Peter and the Wolf talk ahead of Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Shrewsbury shows

It’s one of classical music’s most familiar pieces, a childhood favourite which introduces many a fascinated youngster to the wonders of the orchestra.

Tori Forsyth-Hecken, Alys Shee and Eilis Small as Hunters, Tzu-chao Chou as Bird, Brooke Ray as Duck, James Barton as Grandad, Samara Downs as Cat and Mathias Dingman as Wolf; photo Dasa Wharton
Tori Forsyth-Hecken, Alys Shee and Eilis Small as Hunters, Tzu-chao Chou as Bird, Brooke Ray as Duck, James Barton as Grandad, Samara Downs as Cat and Mathias Dingman as Wolf; photo Dasa Wharton

Now Peter and the Wolf returns to the stage – but not quite as we know it. In a brand new production from Birmingham Royal Ballet, Peter is a girl.

The story has been transported from the Russian countryside of almost a century ago to a modern urban landscape, and it's coming to Shrewsbury's Theatre Seven, Wolverhampton's Grand Theatre, and Birmingham Hippodrome as part of its run.

"Why shouldn’t Peter be a girl?” asks the ballet’s choreographer and BRB First Artist, Ruth Brill.

“This feels like the right moment for the story to come back in a new form. Peter has a boldness and sense of playful fun and is an instinctive leader. I had certain dancers in mind to portray that, and they’re all girls. Why not? When I hear Peter’s music, I don’t think it’s particularly male.”

“While adults may question why Peter is a girl, I think most children will just accept it.”

While Sergei Prokofiev’s music and fable remain the same, our new interpretation has nine dancers playing a group of youngsters hanging out in ‘The Meadow’ and re-enacting the story of Peter and the Wolf using the scaffolding set.

They take on the characters of a host of animals, including a duck which falls prey to a wolf. Each character is represented by a different instrument in the orchestra, such as the strings for Peter, horns for the wolf, flute for the bird, oboe for the duck and bassoon for the grandfather.

Ruth, 30, has previously choreographed several pieces including Arcadia for the main BRB stage. She says: “Peter and the Wolf is my most challenging work to date. I’m taking an iconic piece and while respecting its tradition, I am also putting my own stamp on it.

“BRB director David Bintley first approached me over a year ago and asked if I’d be up for reimagining Peter and the Wolf with Peter as a girl.

“It’s been a fantastic journey of collaboration with the dancers, set and costume designer Spike Kilburn, lighting designer Peter Teigen, Principal Conductor Paul Murphy and poet Hollie McNish.

“I wanted a female voice for the recorded narration. I heard poet Hollie McNish on Radio 4 – she has such natural rhythm in her voice and it’s also very accessible.

“Peter and the Wolf is usually performed as a children’s piece, but I wanted this version to appeal to all ages.

“There’s a false assumption that ballet is quite highbrow and people won’t understand or connect with it. I think this piece is open to everyone. The story is clear and the characters are dressed like people you can relate to.

Tori Forsyth-Hecken, Alys Shee and Eilis Small as Hunters; photo Dasa Wharton

“We are so glued to our phones that we can forget that imagination and the ability to play and interact is such an important part of growing up. It’s vital to keep your imagination firing. So this is all about recapturing some of the imagination which I think we may have lost today.

“I hope audiences will look up to Peter and think ‘How brilliant, an inquisitive, intelligent, joyful girl!’.

“It’s important to provide these strong role models. Female characters in classical ballet are sometimes seen as waif-like muses with little backbone, but that doesn’t reflect reality now.”

“It’s really important that new choreographers have a voice and make sure their thoughts and experiences become part of the present day dance landscape.”

Peter and the Wolf will premiere on BRB’s regional tour from May 10 to 25, which plays theatres in Cheltenham, Northampton, Shrewsbury, Malvern and Wolverhampton.

It will be performed in a double bill with another new ballet, Seasons in our World.

Ruth Brill; photo Caroline Holden

Then it will return to Birmingham Hippodrome from June 12 to 15 and London Sadler’s Wells from June 25 to 26, as part of a triple bill by female choreographers, [Un]leashed.

Laura Day is one of the dancers playing Peter, while also co-choreographing Seasons in our World.

The 25-year-old First Artist, particularly known in BRB for playing Clara in The Nutcracker, will be watching Seasons in the wings in her Peter costume before going on in the second half.

“It’s very rare to have a role created on you,” she says of Peter. “To be involved in its development is very special.

“I try to bring out Clara’s curiosity and independence, but she is certainly a more passive role than Peter, who’s a lot punchier! Peter wears shorts and canvas trainers. It’s really different and cool, creative and imaginative.”

Eilis Small as Cat and Ruth Brill; photo Dasa Wharton

Choreographing the Spring section in Seasons in our World, with Kit Holder and Lachlan Monaghan taking other seasons, is Laura’s first work for the main stage.

“It’s nerve wracking but so exciting, especially as it will premiere in my home town of Cheltenham. I’ll have lots of family and friends there, and pupils from my old dance school, Corraine Collins.”

Seasons in our World is inspired by a poem by David Laing, given to the company by the ballet fan and Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire. It has a new score by award-winning composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian.

Laura says: “She was partly inspired by Nowruz, the Iranian new year and beginning of spring, and an Armenian celebration in which young single females discover their romantic destiny. It involves dipping hands in water and I’ve used some of that.

“Seasons is about a community of people going through this cycle and how they cope with the climate. It doesn’t lecture about global warming but you will notice how the seasons are becoming less normal. Lachlan’s summer has a darker side, as there’s a drought.

Samara Downs as Cat and Ruth Brill; photo Caroline Holden

“I love being on stage and I want to carry on dancing for a long time yet, but I’d definitely love to do more choreographing too. These two shows allow me the best of both worlds.”

On Saturday 25th May BBC Midlands Today's Nick Owen will be hosting an audience with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Artistic Director David Bintley CBE. This will be one of David’s final appearances before he steps down after over 20 years at the helm of one of the country’s most successful ballet companies.

Speaking ahead of the event David said: "I'm looking forward to chatting with Nick Owen, ahead of what will be my final appearance at the Wolverhampton Grand as BRB's Artistic Director and look forward to seeing familiar faces in the audience who have supported the company over the years.

"Encouraging new talent and exploring ideas and topical issues through the creation of new music and choreography is the lifeblood of any dance company and I am particularly proud that these two new pieces, created by members of the Company, are being performed during my final season as Director".

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