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The North Carolina Symphony, celebrating their 80th season as North Carolina’s favorite orchestra, heralded the New Year in collaboration with the Enchantment Theatre Company to present Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose as part of the ncsKids Young People’s Concert series. After meeting several musicians and trying out a few instruments in the lobby of Meymandi Hall during the preshow meet and greet, the young audience members awaited with piqued interest for the rising curtain. Resident Conductor William Henry Curry and the North Carolina Symphony welcomed their second audience of the day with Hérold’s enthusiastic Overture to Zampa. The energetic repartee between brass and strings and the rapid movements of strings in unison thrilled children and adults alike. A charismatic Maestro Curry took the moment between pieces to banter with his young symphony goers, introducing each of the French composers, calling out for translations for French words like “oui” and “non,” and drawing giggles from excited youngsters with an extensive French phrase that far surpassed this critic’s repertoire for the language. The orchestra concluded their solo pieces with two compositions from Coppélia by Delibes – Gallop and Czárdás; this Czárdás, as Maestro Curry explained, tells the story of a doll that comes to life. Imaginations swirled as children saw the calculated first steps of a living toy in the deliberate, heavy strokes of bows, the mischievous steps of a doll sneaking around the house at night in the increased tempo, and finally the freedom of a toy invigorated with life in the exhilarating melody of the finale.
At the conclusion of the selections from Coppélia, Maestro Curry welcomed to the stage Landis Smith, Artistic Director of Production for Enchantment Theatre Company. A touring company based in Philadelphia, Enchantment Theatre strives to challenge young minds by presenting familiar fairy tales and fables through unique theatrical approaches. With ensemble versed in the arts of illusion, dance, drama, and writing, Enchanted Theatre produces original works blending these various art forms to create the mystical world of a fairytale. With an impressive résumé, including performances with the Boston Pops and an admirable artistic mission, this collaboration with the North Carolina Symphony on Ravel’s Mother Goose did not quite live up to expectations. Though the ensemble of four made innovative use of their deceivingly minimal set pieces, much of the storyline was lost on the audience. Smith explained the constant presence of the Mother Goose figure as a through line for the seven movements of the ballet. As the orchestra plays the whimsical melodies of Ravel’s interpretations of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Tom Thumb, and the Empress of the Pagodas, Mother Goose reflects on her life. These fairy tales provide Mother Goose with memories of her own life, which prove emotionally difficult to recollect at first. In the end, Mother Goose embraces her past in a literal embrace with her younger self. The utilization of many art forms and the exciting transformations of the set and characters, blended with the live performers and onstage orchestra, provided all the elements of an exhilarating and challenging performance for young minds. However, the production lacked some convention to ground the audience in the story line and clarify key transitions and plot points. The presence of a narrator or brief dialogue at the transitions between movements may have illuminated some of the metaphor within the performance. Having a program with the movements in the correct order would certainly have helped, as well. When Beauty and the Beast showed up in the fourth movement instead of the printed sixth, we thought we’d missed a lot.
Though it may have been a bit unclear as to how we arrived, the audience shared in Mother Goose’s triumph of a happy ending. Enchantment Theatre challenged the conventions of fairy tales and gave a new perspective to classic storytelling and classic musical composition.