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Little Red Riding Hood: the NEXT Generation (2010, Belarus)

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Old tale gains new twist at National Belarusian Academic Musical Theatre

The tale of Little Red Riding Hood is so much part of our cultural heritage it seems almost impossible to imagine it revamped in modern style, with techno dancing, rap and reggae meeting the usual orchestral accompaniment. Even the choir is up and dancing in this new adaptation of the story written by Charles Perrault and edited by the Brothers Grimm. Anastasia Grinenko, the Production Director, has once again surprised the Belarusian public, offering her own concept of the fairy tale as a musical comedy for children and adults: "Little Red Riding Hood: The Next Generation".

Ms. Grinenko is known for her refined taste and original take on stereotypes. Her unusual approach and love of experimentation flavour all her works. In fact, her clear, sharp style in this new musical comedy draws inspiration from Aleksei Nechaev’s 1977 film "About Little Red Riding Hood". However, her version of the tale certainly differs from the famous film and all previous interpretations of the story. "Nechaev contributed a great deal to the development of Belarusian cinema," asserts Ms. Grinenko. "His film of Little Red Riding Hood is a Belarusian calling card – a pearl created by BelarusFilm Studio. Several generations of children enjoyed it but we need a modern interpretation to capture the imagination of today’s youngsters. That’s why we decided to revamp the story, with characters taken from the film appearing in a new plot, created by ourselves. In addition, we’ve added marvelous music, created by Aleksei Rybnikov."

‘Little Red Riding Hood; The Next Generation" is the Musical Theatre’s third performance created jointly with Aleksei Rybnikov, People’s Artiste of Russia. The idea of creating a musical performance for children appeared in 2003, when the composer came to Minsk for the first night of "Yunona and Avos" – a rock opera. At that time, Mr. Rybnikov agreed to stage the tale of Buratino (Pinocchio), with the new performance proving a great success at the 2005 3rd International Golden Knight Festival in Moscow. The Theatre was awarded first prize for "Buratino.by" and, soon after, the team began discussing plans for Little Red Riding Hood. 

However, an unexpected problem arose, since Mr. Rybnikov lacked a score of the film’s soundtrack. Nikolai Makarevich, a conductor and producer with the Theatre, spent a few months creating a score by listening to a recording of the soundtrack. Considerable assistance was given by the National Library, which had copies of some of the song scores. After the vocal score was restored, Anastasia Grinenko wrote the libretto to the new musical comedy.

Uniquely, two top Belarusian harmonists, Honoured Artiste Vladimir Tkachenko and Leo Karpenko, have taken part, alongside two conductor-producers, Nikolai Makarevich and Yuri Galiassa – winners of international contests. Mr. Makarevich notes, "The joint work of two conductors allows their valuable experience to be shared, ensuring the quality of the score. The presence of another expert brings a second opinion, improving the music." This musical comedy is rich in musical experiments, boasting hip-hop, techno and reggae, but also gives us original choreography, courtesy of Dmitrii Yakubovich, a laureate of international competitions and widely known both in Belarus and abroad. His dance moves combine aspects of classical and modern dance, harmonizing a blend of genres to bright effect. He has managed to create some unconventional choreographic features.

"Since we created our musical comedy from the film score, the choreographer was able to invent extended solo ballet scenes in various styles: classical ballet, rap, and elements of free calisthenics," explains Anastasia Grinenko. "Apart from our thirteen main performers, we have ballet dancers and a choir, who act, sing and dance. For a long time, we’ve been trying to master these lateral skills. Even the grandmother in our story (once Little Red Riding Hood herself) played by Natalia Gaida, Peoples’ Artiste of Belarus, gets the chance to show her fighting prowess, transforming at the end of the comedy into a Japanese Samurai while dancing. Marvelously, we see organic dancing from the wolf and techno style moves from Red Riding Hood’s Mother. Mr. Yakubovich has found a new language to help the characters win the hearts of the youngest connoisseurs of the fairy tale.

Red Riding Hood is the brightest character, played by young Alexandra Zhuck, a true gift to theatre. This first year student at the National Academy of Arts was an instant choice at the auditions, creating a wave of whispering when she sings in rehearsals. "As soon as we heard her voice, we immediately understood that our search for Red Riding Hood was over. Sasha won us over from the very beginning with her talent and childish spontaneity," smiles Ms. Grinenko. "It’s easy to hold rehearsals when you are performing with professionals," admits Alexandra. "I’m truly happy to work with such performers as Natalia Gaida, and laureates of international competitions like Katherine Degtiareva, Svetlana Matsievskaya and Victor Tsyrkunovich. Young actresses rarely receive such opportunities!"

Costume designer Yulia Babaeva has also had the chance to revel in her creativity, sewing outfits for this major show. Of course, the performance features plenty of new characters to dress – including flowers, butterflies, a witch from the Fairy Forest, the Stargazer and some wild women. Each has a newly designed costume. The characters are unexpected and original, allowing Yulia to draw inspiration from unusual sources. She has been influenced by the clothes often worn by Japanese teenagers: bright, colourful and multi-layered, with plenty of accessories. The Hunter’s costume is based on traditional Scottish garments while the Wolf and his kin resemble eerie Goths. Creating outfits for the wild women, Yulia was inspired by Velasquez’s paintings, noting, "The costumes are rather eclectic but children tend to be interested when they see variety of form and colour; it stimulates their imagination and encourages creative thinking."

Spectators are sure to be entranced by the lively characters and the theatricality of the show, alongside its impressive special effects. The Theatre has had a rotating circle installed and boasts projection equipment and light effects. Even performances for adults can’t always compete technically with this new musical comedy.

Ms. Grinenko knew from the beginning that she was taking the tale in a new direction, being keen to address the serious problems of our times. She had no desire to dumb down the story, rather deciding to enthral her little spectators by treating them as equals. Her endeavours are a clear success and time will show whether this new performance will match "Buratino.by" in popularity. No one doubts that this contemporary story of the Red Riding Hood clan is captivating and spectacular. It cannot fail to move audiences, regardless of age.

Беларусь. Belarus. – 2010. – № 4. – P. 48–49.

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