It’s a tale as old as time (forgive me), a story about sacrifice and looking past appearances – Beauty and the Beast. Last Wednesday, the Birmingham Royal Ballet brought the fable to life for Edinburgh, and it was absolutely beautiful.
The curtain opens on Belle (Delia Mathews) reading a tale in which a young vixen (Beatrice Parma) is turned into a Wild Girl (Yaoqian Shang) to protect her from hunters. It sets the tone for the rest of the performance: dark and ominous, yet hopeful and magical.
Contributing to this atmosphere is the gorgeous design work by Philip Prowse. The sets are all washed in gold, and the Beast’s castle is never fully illuminated until the end, which heightens the sense of mystery and danger. I also particularly enjoyed the clever creation of the levitating teapot, the self-lighting chandelier, and the decorative birds that suddenly take flight.
The costumes, too, add to the gleaming enchantment of the tale. The use of masks to portray different animals is effective; the ensemble costumes for the rats, the birds, and the court beasts helped form a wild pack of distinct but united animals. The dance of the birds of the forest was particularly impressive in its uniformity and dizzying circularity.
David Bintley’s choreography is absolutely gorgeous. Each character has a particular style that distinguishes them – the rabbits, the rats, the raven each stake out their personalities through their movement. The opening hunting scene is especially effective in bringing across the urgency of the scene. Further, the way in which the ensemble create contrast between the Beast’s court and the Merchant’s entourage is hilariously well done: it’s clear that the humans think far too much of themselves and have lost all the abandon that makes the animals so joyful.
Some aspects fall short, however. Certain sequences lack energy, as if the dancers are simply repeating movements they’ve rehearsed. The plot could use some development, especially with regards to Cochon (James Barton) and the relationship between Belle and the Beast (Tyrone Singleton). Cochon’s role in the story ends all too abruptly and could be better clarified. Belle and the Beast share a beautiful bond that is shown wonderfully in their final dance, but the jump from their first meeting to the ball months later is altogether too sudden and were it not for my previous knowledge of the work that the film does to develop character, I would have been far more confused than I already was.
That being said, however, the two protagonists are a captivating pair. Their first pas de deux is striking, especially given that for most of it Belle is actually trying to escape the Beast’s hold. When the spell finally breaks and the Beast becomes human again, the couple’s joy at finding one another is palpable and realistic. Paired with the soft golden light emanating from the back of the stage, their dancing forms a sweet and ethereal ending to a fantastic story.
PHOTOS: Caroline Holden; Roy Smiljanic