Bringing Hansel & Gretel To Life

Azamat Asangul and Linnea Wahle as Hansel and Gretel, photo by Dylan Giles

Fall is officially here, and with the shift in the wind comes a spooky family production at Festival Ballet Providence’s chatterBOXtheatre! The classic Grimm’s Brothers tale, Hansel & Gretel, comes to the Black Box on Hope Street, Saturdays and Sunday October 12-20, 2019. We sat down with Hansel & Gretel choreographer Ilya Kozadayev to get the inside scoop on how he created this fun fan-favorite…

ilya kozadayev
Hansel & Gretel choreographer Ilya Kozadayev

So Ilya, what is your approach when choreographing a children’s ballet? Do you think being a father yourself helped you see the ballet through the eyes of a child?

Being a dad, I have learned that kids are very intuitive when it comes to following a visual story. I tried to focus on clearly developing characters in the beginning, making their later journeys easier to follow. In this case, the plot of Hansel & Gretel is written for a young audience, so there is no need to simplify the story. My goal was to lay out the scenes and transitions clearly.

Linnea Wahle and Alex Lantz as Gretel and the Witch

Even though Hansel & Gretel was written for a young audience, this is quite a grim (Grimm, heh) story. How do you get into the minds of dark characters like the Stepmother and the Witch? What goes into developing these characters? 

I read the book as a child, so I already had a preconceived notion of the dark characters built up in my head. However, I wanted to refresh these old childhood images. To do this, I researched some cases of neglected parenting, living in isolation and even serial killers and cannibalism. I watched a few scary shows, refreshing these dark characters to create ‘still images’ in my head, which I then I animated.

That’s sounds like a cool- and creepy- process. Are the evil characters connected in any way in your mind?

I am sure on some level the two evil characters are connected. Perhaps it is the stepmother who walks her (hungry) kids into the woods on purpose, to later lure them with food and eat the children as a witch? It is interesting that in the story the stepmother dies as does the witch…

Kirsten Evans and Mamuka Kikalishvili as Stepmother and Father, photo by Dylan Giles

Hmmm, we’ll have to leave it up to the audience to decide! How important is it to you that this young audience walks away from the ballet with something that makes them think?

It is important to me that young audience walks away with an experience! We cannot dictate anyone what to think as creators, and the story itself is written with many lessons without choreography. In my opinion, performing art, and dance in particular, being a physical, visual form communicates to those observing it in a different way, on a different level. Hopefully it reaches young minds and their experience leads to ‘a lesson’.

Azamat Asangul and Linnea Wahle as Hansel and Gretel, photo by Dylan Giles

Why do you think it is important to make ballets specifically geared toward children like we do with chatterBOXtheatre at FBP?

I think its important to expose children to art in general. This is live art that is so close you can “reach” the characters with your hands, see, hear and “feel” their movement. At ChatterBOX, observers are so close to live action. In an age where communication is isolated with a screen this kind of live, raw experience is important.

Azamat Asangul and Linnea Wahle as Hansel and Gretel, photo by Dylan Giles

Thank you, Ilya! Stay tuned for an exclusive interview with David Ickard, the composer who created an original soundscape for FBP’s Hansel & Gretel, coming soon to the blog!

To learn more about FBP’s Hansel & Gretel click here. For tickets, click here.

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