Beauty and the Beast – Birmingham Hippodrome

Director/Choreographer: David Bintley

Reviewer: Hannah Powell

The folk tale of Beauty and the Beast is a familiar one of family, danger and love, shared by a vast number of cultures stretching across the breadth of the globe. After being caught trespassing and in return for his life, Belle’s father is forced to send his youngest daughter to live within the castle walls with the Beast and slowly a love story unfolds. Months later, after begging the Beast to allow her to return to her family, he agrees, giving her a rose on the condition that she return before the rose dies. Detained by her sisters at home Belle escapes arriving at the castle minutes before the Beast dies. She declares her undying love for him lifting the curse and transforming him back to a handsome prince.

One might imagine that pairing such a story with a medium considered by some to be elitist or dead would result in a predictable and boring waste of time, yet David Bintley and the Birmingham Royal Ballet have succeeded in producing something which is entirely the opposite. Sixteen years ago, Bintley crafted the two-act piece. By foregoing the popular Disneyesque interpretation for one of unflinching darkness closer to that of the original story of the 1700s, Bintley has created a seemingly ageless and consistently enthralling piece of art.

The story of Beauty and the Beast blends effortlessly with the medium of ballet amplifying the emotions portrayed within the story to a new level never before reached. Words feel unnecessary when an audience is already enamoured by the levels of grace and elegance displayed before it. This is then coupled with movements made to appear seemingly effortless, timed perfectly to an equally impressive musical score written by Canadian composer Glenn Buhr.

While the first act might feel slightly long, even tedious at points, it proves necessary to lay the foundations for the electricity of the second act, highlighted by a beautifully choreographed pas de deux between Beauty (Maureya Lebowitz) and the Beast (Yasuo Atsuji). The dance completely encapsulates both the Beast’s battle between his human sensibilities and his animalistic qualities and Belle’s innate tenderness in the face of aggression and rage. Every dance is full of beautiful lines and impressive gazelle-like leaps transporting the audience into the action, building tension and suspense appropriate to the story. Some of the grace and precision does, however, become lost by the increase of bodies on stage. Scenes involving what appears to be almost the entire company dominate the space making it slightly difficult to concentrate and not get lost in the sea of bodies present.

The dark and mystical ambience created by the ballet is complemented beautifully by Philip Prowse’s rapturously acclaimed set design. It looms over the action crafting shadows and intelligently imitating the movement of an opening and closing book, contrasting dark shades with seas of gold, copper and bronze tones intelligently complemented by Mark Jonathan’s lighting design.

Overall, the piece is an elegantly crafted interpretation of the familiar fairy-tale which succeeds in drawing its audience into the story yet may benefit from fewer bodies on stage at times and a quicker pace for setting the story.

Runs Until 2nd March 2019 and on tour  | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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