Choreographer: David Nixon
Reviewer: Laura Jane Bateman
The story of Beauty and the Beast has been immortalised by Disney’s animated film, but Northern Ballet’s adaptation, first presented in 2011, takes the story back to its 18th-century fairy-tale roots. Choreographed by artistic director David Nixon, it is a simple and well-danced production which is let down by underdeveloped characters and garish designs.
Set in an unspecified period, the egotistical Prince Orian is transformed into a hideous Beast by La Fée Magnifique as punishment for his vanity. Elsewhere, a young woman named Beauty, her father and her two sisters are cast out of their home by bailiffs and forced to live in a forest. When their father, searching for food, trespasses on the Beast’s land, he must hand over one of his daughters in order to preserve his life. Beauty volunteers, and once her initial terror fades, the pair fall in love. Beauty’s love breaks the curse, and the Beast transforms back into Prince Orian in time for the wedding.
The plot is relatively simple in comparison to other Northern Ballet works, such as 1984 and The Great Gatsby, yet there are no real standout choreographic moments. Beauty performs arabesque after arabesque, the two fairies grand jéte everywhere, and the Beast spends much of the evening rolling on the floor. Nixon also does little to redress the problematic gender roles from the original story: Chantelle and Isabelle, Beauty’s sisters, are obsessed with fashion, money and men, while Beauty herself is exemplified as the ‘perfect’ woman through her timidity, modesty and selflessness. The characters are stereotypes, and as such many of the performances lack personality.
However, there is impressive technical work throughout the ranks, notably in the soloist roles. Hannah Bateman is a luminous, graceful La Fée Luminaire, surely the company’s next principal female with the departure of star ballerina Martha Leebolt. There is also eye-catching work from Rachael Gillespie as Chantelle, and strong partnering from Giuliano Contadini as Prince Orian. Dreda Blow is engaging if a little bland as Beauty, and Ashley Dixon is suitably predatory as the emotionally unstable Beast.
The designs, however, are bizarre and in places nonsensical. Much of the costumes seem to be made from a metallic jersey fabric, giving them a perhaps unintended panto look, and the female dancers spend much of the evening in slit dresses and underwear for no real purpose. Duncan Hayler’s stage design is blocky and garish, particularly in the Beast’s palace, and it is only Tim Mitchell’s lighting design which effectively conjures a sense of place. The music, a compilation of Saint-Saëns, Bizet and Debussy among others, is expertly played by Northern Ballet Sinfonia, although the organ is perhaps a little too Dracula.
Northern Ballet’s Beauty and the Beast is disappointingly unsubtle. There is a campiness to the production which not even the most accomplished of the dancers can eclipse, and though it is a pleasant enough evening, it does little to reinvigorate the classic story.
Runs until 5 November 2016 | Image: Contributed