Director & Choreography: David Bintley
Musical Director: Koen Kessels
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
Sixteen years ago, David Bintley reimagined what is perhaps fairy tales’ most recognisable story. Returning to the stage, the Birmingham Royal Ballet seeks to capture the illustrious nature of the piece, whilst showcasing some of the nation’s finest dancers in the timeless classic – Beauty and the Beast.
With every fibrous faith in pixies, enchantresses, even a magic lamp – one wanted this to succeed. Philip Prowse’s design aesthetic enraptures from the outset, Belle sat solitarily in the Beasts library as the tale unfolds quite literally before her. In this almost meta deliverance of an opening – hope is high. Quickly though this tale as old as time develops some unexpected issues.
Several pages of variations seem to have become glued to one another, as this Beauty and the Beast has some additions more accustomed with other tales or early versions of its own story. In parts, this works in spades for the grim(m)ness of Bintley’s production. Instead of furniture, the court has been transfigured into rats, wolves and rabbits. The Enchantress now a Woodsman, delivered with an ecological coating, perhaps more relevant now than it was previously.
Regrettably, the first act serves to set foundations for the much tighter second. In fact, the pacing is oddly constructed. What seems to be a dragging first half, is actually rather short. The issue here lies in the extended numbers for the larger troupes.
Strikingly different from a graceful waltz, our Beauty and Beast (Delia Mathews & Tyrone Singleton) take their first dance to a more intricate level. The desire here is for Belle’s tenderness, her serenity to compliment the Beast who is struggling with his animalistic urges. The issue is that she feels overpowered. Belle, often regarded as one of the few defiant female protagonists in fairy-tale feels dampened, lowered.
Detracting from the overall performance, the troupes of performers seem large – perplexing given the Festival’s size. It works in one dance, led by Tzu-Chao Chou’s depiction of a Raven. A conspiracy of them, clambering together promenading across the stage to carry Belle away. Though, even here, despite its technical prowess it needed a minute or two shaved.
With ageless, striking nocturnes to combat the gleaming light Prowse’ design adds a mythical level which is required. A saviour, for the most part, it almost eclipses the dancers. As the castle closes in upon itself – a literal storybook, we realise that a great deal of the majesty in this production lies too much in its appearance.
This is especially true for the costumes, draped in seas of pastels or rich golds can be contrasting gorgeous sharp leathery blacks. Sometimes though, they’re more interesting than the character themselves, as seen when Monsieur Cochon’s gluttonous nature reveals another transformation.
Serving to compliment, yet also somewhat outshines our dancers are the Sinfonia with Glenn Buhr’s score. It integrates aspects of music not traditional to Ballet, which works well for the Beasts heavy lashings mirrored onstage. There’s a heavy brass element to the score, welcomed over the usually waifish ‘enchanted’ strings.
The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production has been crafted to exceedingly tall standards. This not only has the potential for true enchantment, but it also has the capability to craft its own take on the tale for thousands to enjoy.
It cannot be a sum of its parts, despite sublime aesthetics paired with radiant orchestral sounds, the movement just isn’t there. The flow is dampened, heavy and burdened. David Bintley crafted his version of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s most notable version of the tale. This time, however, beauty is in abundance, but it outshines its dancers. Whilst the Beasts’ rampant fury is present but fumbled and misplaced.
Runs until March 16th then continues on tour | Image: Contributed