The Birmingham Royal Ballet invite audiences to be their guest for their adaptation of classic fairytale ‘Beauty and the Beast’. With choreography by David Bintley and music by Glenn Buhr, performed live by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, the ballet stands as a testament to the enduring nature of this story, continuing to inspire affection in audiences old and new, for this well-known tale.
Told through the unparalleled beauty of classical ballet, the beauty of this timeless story, and of its lovable characters, shines.
Bookworm Belle takes down a book from a grandiose library, sits down, and begins to read. As she reads, the fantastical materialises around her, and we see a Prince transformed into a Beast by a powerful Sorcerer, who curses the Prince for hunting a Vixen. Head in the clouds and nose in a book, this might first appear to be a figment of Belle’s imagination. However, it soon becomes clear that this supposed fantasy, the ‘impossible’, is about to become a reality for Belle. And for her audience.
Belle’s father, a Merchant, sets out to meet his ships, promising his daughters gifts. To Belle’s sisters, Fière and Vanité, he promises dresses and jewellery. Belle asks only for a rose. Caught up in a terrible storm, and robbed, Belle’s father takes shelter in a huge, and seemingly empty, castle, where he makes himself at home. On leaving, however, he plucks a rose from the castle’s garden. As he does so, however, he comes face-to-face with the enraged Beast. The Merchant, frightened and desperate, comes to an agreement with the Beast – Belle must go to the castle, where she will live as the Beast’s prisoner, and the Merchant will be permitted to leave with his life. Wanting to save her father, Belle agrees.
Somewhat darker, perhaps, than versions of the story we are used to, we follow Belle into a world of magic, wonder and enchantment.
The artists of the Birmingham Royal Ballet give faultless performances, Bintley’s choreography perfectly portrayed through the dancers’ expressive movement and clear mime. Momoko Hirata dances with feminine refinement as heroine Belle. Her delicate movement is soft and unbroken, one movement flowing seamlessly into the next. César Morales’ makes for a very human Beast. His movement is strong and powerful, a notable contrast to Belle’s gentle movement. Whilst the characters’ solos give us insights into their abilities and personality, their duets together are very sensitive, and the Beast supports Belle as he lifts her with ease into the air. Whilst Morales displays the tempestuous nature of the Beast, Belle’s soothing reassurance brings out his human qualities, reminding us that this was once a man. Through their tender interaction, Belle is able to restore in the Beast once more feelings of love, hope and humanity.
A notable performance comes from Aitor Galende as the Raven, whose birdlike agility and height gives his performance a impressive weightlessness. When alongside the birds of the forest, danced by artists of the company, this visually impressive sequence as the birds carry Belle to the Beast’s castle is a scene of avian majesty. With their beaked masks and dark feathered costumes, the interspersed multi-tonal aspects shimmering with an iridescence, this throng of dancers, of birds, soar across the stage, a few of them becoming a great multitude, as they dance in symmetric formations, like a flock of migrating birds.
Comic relief can be found in the performances of Belle’s sisters, Fière and Vanité , danced by Ruth Brill and Alys Shee respectively, in Kit Holder’s rich Monsieur Cochon, and Laura Purkiss’ Grandmere.
The ballet skilfully emphasises the idea of transformation within this story, and we see animals turned into humans, and vice versa. When Laura Day’s Vixen is transformed into a human by the Sorcerer, becoming the Wild Girl, danced to great effect by Miki Mizutani, the character continues to display vulpine behaviour, expressed in her movement, with the repetition of particular hand and arm gestures.
With some of our human characters, however, we see some rather animalistic traits lend themselves to a particular creature, as with Kit Holder’s snout-nosed Monsieur Cochon, who seems more taken with the wedding feast, than in choosing which of Belle’s two sisters he wants to wed.
We therefore see these characters seem to become the animals whose traits they inherit, whilst other characters, the court beasts, for example, appear to be more human, excepting in appearance, than others.
The ballet features a sorcery of its own in the form of its use of many animatronic elements, that bring everyday objects to life, instilling them with almost human qualities, as we see with the enchanted chair that, having scooped up a person and sat them down, brings its arms around to embrace them as they rest.
The beauty of this production is exquisitely enhanced by Philip Prowse’s design. The elaborately detailed sets unfold, opening out as smoothly as one might turn the pages of a book, and we are led from the residency of Belle, fallen into a state of disrepair, to the uninviting shadows of the forest, to the opulent extravagance of the Beast’s dimly-lit castle. Mark Jonathan’s lighting, illuminating areas of the stage often only by candlelight, ensures this deeply atmospheric production is shrouded in an almost impenetrable darkness, as the curse, a veil of oppression and misery, hangs over the castle and its inhabitants. When the light of candles flicker over parts of the set, we see glimmers of its opulence, of the rich detail embedded within these impressive architectural feats, the shadow of what once was, and what might be again. At the end of the production, when the curse is lifted, the stage is flooded in a golden light, forcing out the darkness, as hope, love, and humanity, is restored to the castle, and to our Beast, our Prince, once more.
Steeped in an ethereal Gothic beauty, this is the stuff that fairy-tales are made of.