Preview: The Canterville Ghost, New Wimbledon Theatre, London

A ghostly ballet that's Wilde at heart
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The Independent Culture

The choreographer William Tuckett rejected 35 children's books before he settled on an Oscar Wilde short story as a fitting subject for his new family ballet.

The 1887 tale concerns an old spook jolted out of his usual haunting routine by no-nonsense American newcomers to Canterville Chase, who refuse to be frightened by his hoary chain-clanking. It is, says Tuckett, "a bit sloppily written, [but] I've been bitten quite hard in the past by taking on things about which you should actually say, 'It's a really good book - just leave it alone.'" He has rewritten Wilde's original story with the Irish playwright Michael West.

A voiceover by Tom Baker will at times act as a guide to the action. "I do think a lot of stuff can be conveyed very easily without words," Tuckett says, "but I also think that you can see Giselle and the mother's mime scene is totally incomprehensible."

Therefore, without sacrificing the "hardcore dancing" expected by traditional English National Ballet audiences, dancing "for the sake of it" will be strictly limited. "You can't ignore the fact that someone has to bring the children in to the theatre. If you say, 'We are now doing a duet because we are in love,' and you haven't conveyed that after two minutes, you're not doing your job very well. Kids get bored - and I get quite bored as well."

A graduate of the Royal Ballet School's Upper School, Tuckett realised early on that "the bloke in the white tights doing the big twirls ain't me". A career in choreography beckoned, including the box-office hit The Wind in the Willows in 2002 and The Soldier's Tale in 2004. Projects in the pipeline for Tuckett include a production of the ballet-chanson Seven Deadly Sins at the Opera House.

Tuckett never loses sight of the need to enthrall younger audiences, saying of those at Covent Garden's Linbury Theatre: "It's many people's first exposure to the Opera House and to dance. You owe them a good evening, something they'll remember for the rest of their lives."

Thursday to 4 June (0870 060 6646)

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