A Durham theatre is preparing to welcome its youngest ever performer to the stage When Frank Burton makes his debut in balletLORENT's Rapunzel at Gala Durham on Saturday 16 September, he will be just five weeks old. Frank has been cast alongside his dance artist mum Lizzie Klotz, 31, in a dance theatre production of the timeless Brothers Grimm fairytale. Born at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in August weighing 7lb 12oz, he lives in Gateshead with his mum, dad Jack and older brother Max, who is two. Frank and another baby - 15 month old baby Solmaz, the daughter of dance artist Alys North, 33, from Newcastle - will appear in two scenes and will be on stage for only a few minutes each time.
The babies are joined by 11 children and teenagers, aged between six and 13, from the balletLORENT Youth Academy, a free dance school that meets weekly in the West End of Newcastle. And although the babies' stage time is short and sweet, for balletLORENT's artistic director Liv Lorent, welcoming real infants into the cast is a vital part of her storytelling. Herself a mum of two, she says the power of the scenes stays with the audience much longer than the brief time the babies appear. She said: "When you mention Rapunzel, people think of a beautiful long-haired girl trapped in a tower and the wicked witch who keeps her there. But if you dig a bit deeper, it is also a story about the desperate longing for a child. "When I was developing this show, I knew I wanted to include real babies in the cast. Seeing dancers holding dolls could never conjure up the same depth of feeling in the audience. "The atmosphere in the auditorium changes the second the babies appear. It's as if they cast a spell over the audience." For dance artist Lizzie, who grew up in Stocksfield, performing with balletLORENT has been a very special way for her to dip her toe back into work alongside bonding with her newborn. She said: "I never imagined I would be back on stage just five weeks after giving birth - I'm still in my maternity clothes! "But when this opportunity came up I couldn't say no. balletLORENT's artistic director Liv worked with me to create a special role that perfectly accommodates where my body is currently at." Lizzie said that whilst her pregnancy and Frank's birth were relatively straightforward, having a newborn still takes its toll. "Frank is my second child, so I know what I'm doing a bit more than the first time, but having a new baby and a toddler is a major juggling act and is pretty full on," she said. "Sleep is hit and miss, but Frank is feeding well and I'm coping. "Being in rehearsals feels like a very positive thing for me at the moment. It is very special to be doing this with Frank alongside me and he is taking it all in his stride." Baby Frank is not the first in the family to appear in the touring dance theatre production, which is narrated throughout to help younger audience members to follow the story. When balletLORENT's Rapunzel premiered at Northern Stage in Newcastle last autumn, Frank's older brother Max, who had then just turned one, joined mum Lizzie on stage.
For artistic director Liv, the welfare of the youngsters comes above everything else. If they're feeling unsettled, tired or hungry, there is a plan B to go ahead without them. She said: "The babies are only ever onstage with their mums, which we felt was really important. If they are crying when it comes to their turn, we have trained chaperones to take care of them for the few minutes their mums are performing. "In reality, this has never happened. We have toured Rapunzel all over the UK for the last 12 months and every baby has relished taking part. One of their scenes involves a maypole strung with colourful ribbons and the dancers play with giant red balloons. It's very visually stimulating for the babies, and they love the music and the gentle movement too." Rapunzel Saturday 16 September 2023 at 2.30pm Gala Theatre, Millennium Place, Durham DH1 1WA For tickets: https://galadurham.co.uk/galapost/balletlorent-rapunzel/ T: 03000 266 600 Tickets from £18 (£15 concs)