The Northern Ballet Company is famous for stepping outside the classical world and taking on unique projects.
But even for them, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, based on John Boyne’s bestselling novel about the Holocaust, is something quite extraordinary.
The company will bring the heartbreaking story to Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre next week as part of its World Premiere tour.
Choreographer Daniel de Andrade said: “What came first for me was the wish to do a ballet on the subject itself. I offered the title of Anne Frank, a very poignant story, very touching, dealing with the horrific events of the Holocaust, with a real human story behind it.
“I was asked if I had read or seen the Boy In The Striped Pyjamas. I read it and my connection with the story was immediate. It is such a poetic way to approach the subject when you offer the view of an eight year old boy, it brings the reader into it in an innocent place. You have the purity of thought that makes those events become heightened and even more appalling.”
Telling the story of an unlikely friendship blossoming through the disturbing events of World War II, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas follows the lives of two young boys. Bruno is the son of an SS commandant who moves his family to the outskirts of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
There, Bruno innocently makes friends with Shmuel through the wires of the camp, unaware of the existence his new friend is suffering, and of the role his own father is playing in that .
Mr de Andrade, who has been with Northern Ballet for 20 years, first as a dancer and now as a member of the artistic staff, said: “I set out to make sure I stayed faithful to the book. It is written as a child’s story and it has an immediacy to it. The events are very fast. It doesn’t take away from the reality of the Holocaust, it heightens it.”
There are 45 dancers in the production and in a story like this, unlike most ballets, the male dancers take centre stage.
Mr de Andrade said: “We have a great cast, 45 dancers who are really fantastic actors as well. Normally ballet is led by taller men and in actual fact we’ve had quite a lot of shorter men who are very talented. This is a real opportunity for those dancers.”
The two little boys central to the story, Bruno , who is on stage in practically every scene, and his friend Shmuel, are played by men rather than young boys.
Mr de Andrade said: “Bruno is a mature role. Even though the young man will be playing a young boy, he has to go through a lot of emotions. Both roles have to be played by very mature, skilled dance actors.”
The costumes and set have been designed by Mark Bailey, who visited Auschwitz and came back touched by the experience, and the original music has been composed by Gary Yershon.
Mr de Andrade said: “Gary has created environments that absolutely describe the scenario and who enters and what they are feeling. The music is quite uncomfortable at times as you would expect, because the story is uncomfortable at times.
“But at the centre is the purity and poignancy of the two boys.”
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre at 7.30pm on Friday June 9 and Saturday June 10. Tickets cost from £12.40. Call the box office on 0844 871 7607 or book online at www.atgtickets.com/aylesbury