Mini-review – Beauty and the Beast – Northern Ballet at Leeds Grand

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In these days of fewer dance companies and more reliance on the “tried and true” in choreography (I counted four Nutcrackers in London this December, all of them remounts), it’s a cause for celebration when a new ballet is choreographed. So when I saw some photos for Northern Ballet’s production of Beauty and the Beast, I saw dangled before me a great opportunity to see a completely new ballet (a story I’d never even seen danced before) as well as a wonderful excuse to travel to the lovely city of Leeds. Tickets were bought (not for opening night, alas, but a convenient Sunday matinee), and off I went to figure out what story supported the rather intriguing costuming.

The show starts with some fantastic scene setting, as our almost Dorian Grey-like Beast-to-be (Kenneth Tindall as Prince Orian) preens and enjoys the fun of being shallow, pretty, and popular. This scene was great storytelling, effectively communicating the idea of his incredible ego and selfishness – in essence, the monster he is inside – is laid out perfectly clearly to us. It seems fitting for an evil fairy (I think called La Fee Magnifique – Victoria Sibson) to turn his outside into a creature that matches his inside – the Beast (Ashley Dixon, most astoundingly muscular in a rather X-Men style).

The story then switches to that of Beauty (Martha Leebolt) and her family, her luckless, feckless father (Darren Goldsmith) and her shallow, selfish sisters (Georgina May and Pippa Moore). While the sisters are obsessed with clothing and dances, Beauty (in a Matilda-esque turn) is a great reader – noticed by her sisters’ suitors but disinterested in the milieu. Of course, this means that when financial disaster falls (comically done with a cleverly designed moving van and some handsome debt collectors), she’s much better able to handle sudden poverty. The scenes of Beauty’s family in the woods post-financial crisis are great, with a wonderful rusting camper van adding a very modern touch to the set while giving Beauty plenty of opportunity to show her practicality and selflessness.

I could go on with describing the story – there’s a rose, Beauty goes to the Beast’s castle in her father’s stead, happy endings all around – and the nicely done sets (such as the rose bower where Beauty sleeps – sadly the costumes seemed generally flimsy and not worth discussing) – but in summary, I was hoping for much better choreography and I just didn’t get it. There is a lovely sequence with Beauty dancing with her dream prince – the Beast in his handsome incarnation – with the envious and sad ugly Beast watching on – that had the kind of emotional complexity expressed through movement that I can really get swept up in. But so much of it was just … well, it seemed to be moving us along from plot point to plot point, getting the tale told, and not giving us a chance to revel in the joy of ballet. I often tell people that the whole point of story ballets is providing us with a plot that allows us to string a lot of wonderful dancing together, but in this case, the story really took over. I did enjoy myself, but I felt like somewhere there will be another choreographer that tells this story in a way that speaks to me more deeply as a lover of dance.

(This review is for a performance that took lace on Sunday, December 18th, 2011, where it continues through December 31st. The show runs for about 2 1/2 hours with two intervals; I consider it to be very suitable for families due to the sustained drama keeping energy levels high. There is a review of it in the Telegraph should you care to read it. It will be touring extensively: Edinburgh, Festival Theatre; Sheffield, Lyceum theatre; Hull New Theatre; Milton Keynes Theatre; Cardiff, New Theatre; Canterbury, Marlowe Theatre.)

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