THERE are ten professional dancers and a community cast of 12 on stage for “some pretty epic scenes” on the first day of rehearsal at Byker, but Newcastle-based dance theatre boss Liv Lorent MBE still manages to find her feet for a chat about Rumpelstiltskin.

“Our youngest dancer is four and the oldest is 79 because we needed to portray a whole community,” laughs the artistic director of balletLORENT

The 4,000-year-old story completes the trilogy of Brothers Grimm fairytales – following 2012’s Rapunzel and 2015’s Snow White – but surely becomes its toughest assignment because Rumpelstiltskin has a central plot of name-guessing.

“How we dance that particular scene, which we call the paper-name, involves the children and dancers going through all our wonderful sets. They make their way up to the high palace and the Queen (Natalie Trewinnard) to supply all the guesses for names to Rumpelstiltskin. Underpinned with that is the wonderful text by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and narration spoken by Ben Crompton which just keeps us on track. Things like, ‘Are you called Sheepshanks or Toothwire?’, so we’re not looking at some kind of movement. It’s a rich and full experience,” says Lorent.

The fascinating thing about the choreographer is that she looks beyond the more contemporary view of Rumpelstiltskin (Gavin Coward) being an evil blackmailer seeking to take the Queen’s baby as a reward for helping her turn flax into gold.

“With all the farytales we’ve done we are always interested in evolving the backstory of the protagonists. Here you have three pretty dark characters. Rumpelstiltskin himself, the shepherd who says his daughter can turn straw into gold and the king who tells the girl that his father will lose everything if she can’t make gold,” says Lorent.

Instead of the girl being a miller’s daughter, Lorent decided the tale allowed children to be dressed impressively as farm animals if the father worked on the land. “I think the sheep are going to steal the show. They are extraordinary and it’s down to Carol Ann Duffy who has done the retelling after I thought the miller sounded a bit boring. She said, ‘How about if we make him a shepherd?’ and it offered us a whole different landscape. We’ve never done something as rural, colourful and outside before.

“I think we’ve managed to create a very believable and beautiful, fairytale world. There are lots of different versions, and it was interesting to decide what made Rumpelstiltskin want to steal a child.

He even turns down all the jewels in the world. Carol has unpicked the back story so that he becomes a loner and people become prejudiced against him, without knowing anything about him.”

Lorent used the setting of a playground because she’d noticed that a lone man in such an environment can have the worst thought of them. “He’s probably waiting for his own kids to turn up, but others can become like a mother bear. I’ve noticed that in myself and it’s not pretty. Men can enjoy watching children playing and then feel guilty for doing that.

“In our version, Rumpelstiltskin makes straw dollies and streamers and he’s a pure spirit and has no idea that his actions will be misjudged. Ultimately that is his undoing and it creates a mob culture in the playground and he is thrown out. Even though it’s a fairytale, we want to make our work very contemporary. We want people to recognise themselves, even though that truth may be painful.”

The twist this time is that the two competitors did know each other from those playground days and there is scope for a love match between them.

“Remember that the king had imprisoned the daughter and she witnesses this alchemist and magician saving the lives of her father and animals. That makes her see beyond his oddness and when they have this tussle over the child, yes she’s married to the king but there’s an undercurrent of, ‘Who’s child is this?’ I’ve read up on this and there are suggestions that more happened during this spinning of straw than you first think. We’re keeping that quiet really and not splashing that all over the publicity. We don’t want the headline, ‘It’s Rumpelstiltskin’s baby!’”

There is still a modern nuance of two people who can’t be together, but both want the same child.

“That’s happening in every town and city across the world,” says Lorent.

The straw to gold experience, which didn’t make the material look like tinsel, seemed hopeless until the creative team tried raffia “which looks incredible and there’s loads of that flying about because gold colour and light works so well together. And I’ve never touched gold colours in 25 years of making shows.”

The fairytale is set to continue and Lorent is looking to keep the same creative team together by working on Carol Ann Duffy’s book The Lost Happy Endings, which references children’s stories that have gone wrong. “It’s a really beautiful story and our next step. It’s going to happen, although we’ll be touring Rumpelstiltskin all next year and it’s going to be something like 2019.

Rumpelstiltskin, balletLORENT at Northern Stage, until October 28). Tickets and Information: 0191-230-5151

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