Choreography: David Bintley
Music: Glenn Buhr
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Although not one of the ‘classic’ ballets, Beauty and the Beast has a similar provenance from folk and fairy tales, originally appearing in print as early as the 1550s before Perrault’s Tales of Mother Goose in 1697 and being retold again in the 18thand 19thcenturies. In the 20thcentury Jean Cocteau made a striking film version in 1946 before Disney transformed it for a new generation in 1991, revisiting it as a live action movie in 2017. The story has legs, with its themes of transformation, the balance of man vs nature and the redemptive power of humanity over inhumanity: a story that is broadly appealing to children but with enough complexity and darkness to register with an adult audience.
David Bintley’s 2003 version of Beauty for Birmingham Royal Ballet, fortunately, favours the darkness within the tale: one of the reasons this production has lasted well. The production has a number of key strengths that combine to create an enjoyable piece of ballet theatre. The storytelling and characterisation is remarkably clear and the pace is brisk. This does mean that the duration of Belle’s imprisonment at the Beast’s castle and his persistence in seeking her hand and her learning of his essential goodness is somewhat truncated, but Bintley is able to compress the story from enchantment to redemption clearly and coherently.
This narrative clarity is supported by Glenn Buhr’s score, which, written specifically for this production in close partnership with Bintley is effective at creative sense of place and character, with clear character themes and music that effectively evokes mystery, drama, a storm, the foolishness of Belle’s sisters, the slightly uneasy nocturnal world of the Beast’s court of transformed animals…
Philip Prowse’s designs are also highly-effective. The set has solidity and versatility with monumental sections that fold and reveal different places with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of visual impact. Mark Jonathan’s lighting designs enhance this hugely; darkly lighting the Beast’s castle and grounds and creating storm effects, and a strong visual contrast with the ‘human’, slightly-faded world of Belle’s family. The way the castle is revealed through swathes of haze and near-darkness, gradually picking up the dull, golden gothic lustre of the staterooms and the Beast that resides there is magical. The costumes are tremendous.
There is real clarity also in Bintley’s character choreography from the simplicity of Belle to the tortured animalism of the Beast, the court beasts, the birds of the air, servants, wedding guests and the vain folly and selfishness of Belle’s sisters Fière and Vanité – played with great wit and energy by Laura Purkiss and Samara Downs – and their fatuous suitor Monsieur Cochon, a splendid James Barton.
Yvette Knight is an effective Belle: cleanly danced and delivering simplicity and goodness without being cloying or weak. Brandon Lawrence makes an impressive Beast, strongly characterising the man trapped within the beast (despite the heavy costume and mask). His secondary relationship with the Wild Girl (Yaoqian Shang) whose transformation mirrors his own is touching.
Beauty and the Beast is one of the better newer ballets in the company’s repertoire. It fits well with Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty without ever being likely to match it for greatness (the music alone gives those an insurmountable advantage). There is a real sense that it is nostalgic and comforting rather than ‘modern’ and innovative, but it is visually-arresting, atmospheric, well-paced, cleanly-told and completely entertaining, which counts for a lot.
Runs until 23 March 2019 | Image: Contributed