Meet the CBeebies choreographer working in her home city on York Theatre Royal's Peter Pan pantomime
When Hayley Del Harrison moved back to Yorkshire in the 2000s after a West End career as a professional dancer and choreographer, she was prepared to leave the theatrical world behind to focus on a new career as a yoga teacher.
But in recent years her work as a choreographer has been reaching vast new audiences after becoming involved in productions for the CBeebies channel, while she has also developed a fruitful relationship with York Theatre Royal.
Hayley, who is originally from York, is in the middle of choreographing the theatre’s production of the All New Adventures of Peter Pan, which stars CBeebies’ presenter Maddie Moate as Tinkerbell.
She says she is very fortunate to be working in Yorkshire – something she feared might not be possible when she returned home.
"I feel very lucky to be at home because it doesn’t happen a lot. I still travel a lot and a lot of my work is out of the region. But I’m very lucky to have this very strong connection with York Theatre Royal, my local theatre.
"It means a better balance for family life and doing the school run and all of that stuff.
"My family are here, my parents are here.
"I moved back here in 2007 with a plan to retire from the industry. I imagined leaving London and thinking, ‘I might not be able to do this’. But very quickly I got involved in a project and then it became ‘would you do this’ and would you do that’ and very quickly I was back in it.
"I still love teaching and still do the odd yoga class but I missed being part of a team. With teaching you can be quite alone by yourself, locking up a church hall at 11pm.
"When I got back into it again and was part of a team, I realised it was what I had missed. I don’t miss performing at all but miss being part of that jigsaw and working with people collaboratively."
The daughter of a dance teacher and a magician, Hayley took up dancing as a hobby at the Patricia Veale School of Dance. After leaving at 16 to attend the Northern Ballet School in Manchester her professional career saw her dancing in West End and touring productions, with credits including shows such as Swan Lake, The Phantom of the Opera and My Fair Lady.
She also worked as a choreographer on shows at Royal Opera House and Opera North’s Sadlers Wells, as well as York Theatre Royal.
Hayley became involved with several theatrical productions for the CBeebies channel after being asked to get involved with them by Juliet Forster, York Theatre Royal’s artistic director.
This year’s production, Dick Whittington and His Cat, has been given a cinematic release and will be on BBC television over Christmas.
She is also busy with Peter Pan at York Theatre Royal, having also choreographed Cinderella at the same theatre last year.
Hayley, who is artistic director of DEL Dance Theatre, says she has a great love of producing work enjoyed by children.
"My background is in classical ballet so I went from ballet through to opera through to working in musicals. I’ve done all styles of theatre and a lot of work I was doing as a performer was quite serious.
"But I love working in light entertainment for children and families, because I just think it is fun. It fits in well with my personality because I like physical comedy. The CBeebies thing came about because the creative director here Juliet Forster, who is also directing the panto, was invited to direct the Romeo and Juliet they did a couple of years ago and she brought me onboard a couple of years ago.
"I’ve been really to keep going back and work with different directors and build on those relationships. I feel really lucky, it is a nice job.
"It is a joy to be involved with the CBeebies shows. I always make sure that is ringfenced in my calendar because I just love it. I love the team and we are really well supported as an organisation. I love the process.
"The schedule is quite tight and we pretty much put a show together in six or seven days. Everyone has to hit the ground running and every department has to be on it.”
She says there are only relatively minimal differences between choreographing a show aimed at children and one for adults.
"My style is very much physical storytelling. I always focus on that whether it is show for adults or a family show or young children.
"If it was aimed at adults, I would probably stretch musical numbers to be a little bit longer and you can probably get away with shifting away from the narrative every so often. But with children’s theatre and television, it is much tighter and very much narrative-based.”
She says her approach to choreography has developed over the years.
"I’ve got to make sure we don’t take the audience off the beaten track. So if there’s a musical number and the scene carries on and everyone is still understanding the story, then I feel like I’ve done my job.
"Success for me is all about the story coming first. That might at the expense of me doing very elaborate choreography. I question myself a lot about ‘Do I need that pirouette?’ or ‘That dancer looks great doing that but what does it mean and why are they doing that jump in the air?’
"I work differently with different people. I always like to make sure we blur the lines between who is the professional dancer and who is the professional singer but with less dance experience. I know our music director is the same. You want to make sure everyone has the chance to shine and also feels good about what they are doing. I tend to choreograph around the people I have in front of me.
"If this was a different cast, this choreography would be different – if I had a different Captain Hook or Mr Smee it would have been different. Of the cast of 12, there is only four I haven’t worked with before. So when I’m hearing the music, I can think ‘that would be really funny if Paul does this’ or ‘I could get Maddie to do that’. In my head, I can see those people doing it. I know what those people can do, I know what their creative process is and I know what they need from me.
"I don’t think it is something I would have done when I first started choreography.
"I probably would have said this is the number I want and hope everyone can do it. When you are a bit older, you have less of an ego and you are not trying to get some award, you are doing it to make the story better.”
Hayley says the cast and crew of Peter Pan have been a joy to work with.
"It is a really great show, it is joyous, it is comical, it is silly but with a really beautiful story.
"My little boy has been watching my work for years and there have been times when he has been in the rehearsals for childcare reasons. He knows some of the CBeebies presenters and feels very much part of it. He is very excited about this panto.”
The All New Adventures of Peter Pan is running at York Theatre Royal until January 2. Visit www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk for tickets.