Rapunzel given new twist in Liv Lorent’s ballet

In this version, the princess in the tower lets down reddish golden hair. Picture: Contributed
In this version, the princess in the tower lets down reddish golden hair. Picture: Contributed
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THE artistic talent Liv Lorent has drawn to her new ballet Rapunzel should guarantee audiences won’t be let down, says Kelly Apter

He soundtracks the adventures of the world’s favourite time traveller, she dresses the high-borns of King’s Landing. But when choreographer Liv Lorent came calling, Doctor Who composer Murray Gold and Game of Thrones costume designer Michele Clapton headed straight to the theatre.

Gold and Clapton are just two of a collaborative dream team Lorent assembled for her reworking of the Brothers Grimm fairytale Rapunzel, with poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy also brought in to write the script.

Based in Newcastle, balletLORENT is known for its sumptuous choreography and perfectly pitched work for younger audiences. Rapunzel sees Lorent take her work a step further, by creating a production aimed at everyone. “I really wanted to make it for grown-ups as well as for children, because if I’m going out to see a production, I want it to be good – not just for my child, but for me,” she says.“And I really love the abundance and richness that these collaborators have given Rapunzel.”

During the production’s planning stages, Lorent was asked who her dream composer would be. “Murray Gold”, she replied, “as if that would ever happen.” Nominated for four BAFTAs, Gold had two good reasons for saying yes. “Firstly, I’d never been asked to work on a ballet before,” says Gold. “Secondly, they were contacting me from Newcastle – and I love that city and was looking for an excuse to spend time there.”

Gold’s involvement was “inspirational” according to Lorent, leading to a full orchestral score recorded by the acclaimed Northern Sinfonia. For Gold, the experience was so positive, he’s already signed up to work with balletLORENT on a new version of Snow White.

“Everything about Rapunzel was great,” he says. “One of the things about doing film and TV is you’re on your own a lot – everybody else has gone home, turned out the lights and you’re the last person working on the production. It’s a very lonely, very solitary career. Whereas working on Rapunzel, I would go to the theatre each day and work with a group of dancers, director and lighting guy – and we were a team. It was such fun, I absolutely loved it.”

Michele Clapton had much the same experience. Having just scooped a second Emmy for her costume work on Game of Thrones, Clapton had no shortage of offers. By her own admission, working with balletLORENT “fits so badly into my schedule” yet she “can’t bear to let it go – I just love it”.

For her, like Murray, it was the collaboration with the company that she enjoyed so much. Unlike television actors, dancers require clothes with much more flexibility.

“Some of the designs I came up with when we were in rehearsals were restrictive,” says Clapton. “But rather than just dismiss them as unworkable, they actually evolved ways to work with them. Obviously, sometimes I would change pieces as well, and I really liked that sort of interaction, that we could develop the whole thing together.”

Like most adults, Lorent read Rapunzel during childhood, and focused on the flowing hair and romanticism of a handsome prince dashing to the rescue. Now in her early forties, with a child of her own, Lorent began to read between the lines. “What’s interesting about it now, as a grown-up, is that after baby Rapunzel has been stolen by the witch, we never hear from the parents again,” says Lorent. “They’re just dropped off the page. As a parent myself, that doesn’t make any sense. You wouldn’t accept that or forget having had a baby. I thought their story was left untold and was something to look at.”

Carol Ann Duffy agreed, and made Rapunzel’s parents an integral part of the story. It’s here that Lorent has added an extra layer to hook the grown-ups in the audience.

“That’s what the story is about – a husband and wife who desperately want a child, but it isn’t happening for them,” says Lorent. “And the witch is an older, lonely woman who also acutely wants a child, so she compensates by growing an incredible garden, which she nurtures and loves and puts all her maternal energy into.

“For me, it was about having sympathy for the witch as much as anything. As a kid you don’t think about it – somebody wants to have a child, so what? But as a grown-up you think, how awful for them.”

Lorent adds: “We’ve performed Rapunzel a lot of times now, and I’m still enormously happy to see how the children are so focused throughout. But we’ve worked hard to achieve that. It’s got a beautiful aesthetic and high production values – there’s a lot going on.”

Aside from Duffy’s text, Clapton’s costumes and Gold’s music, the show benefits from an ambitious set, which sees the eponymous girl trapped in a high iron tower, and her prince arrive on a scooter. No longer blonde and glossy, Rapunzel’s hair is reddish gold and, says Lorent, “like a wild weed that keeps on growing.”

As familiar as the story is, when translated into dance, nuances can slip through the cracks. To avoid that, Gold’s score is accompanied by occasional narration, allowing everyone to keep up with the action. “It means that as a grown-up you can watch the show in peace, without your kids constantly saying ‘what’s happening?’, which is really nice,” says Lorent.

“I made Rapunzel not just as a choreographer and director, but as a parent as well. And that was really important to me.”

• balletLORENT: Rapunzel is at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 19-20 September, www.edtheatres.com