Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Ballet Cymru's Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast, Ballet Cymru, Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre @ Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 28th November
 
At the Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre last week, Beauty and the Beast wasn't as successful as Ballet Cymru's other works - like Little Red Riding Hood and Romeo and Juliet - that have been programmed at the same venue. It commenced charmingly, with words appearing on the backdrop as movement patterns rippled through ten dancers onstage in front. "Children believe what we tell them" the audience was reminded, with further text encouraging us to use our imagination. "It always begins with a child's 'open sesame'. Once upon a time..."

Whilst the ballet was well-performed, it has two main issues. The first is David Westcott's score, which is so melodic that it is completely at odds with the more dramatic passages of choreography. For example, When Belle enters the Beast's castle, music is almost lullaby-like in its lyricism, such that there is no sense of impending menace or the character's fear.

Secondly, Beauty and the Beast's narrative is difficult to follow. Darius James's  choreography gives a clear identity to the leading roles, but secondary characters are poorly-defined. The Beast also lacks impact in his movements, which are impaired by visually effective but choreographically restrictive stilt-like hooves.

The ballet has some lovely moments. As the Beast nears death and Belle rushes through the forest to see him, two female dancers are lifted in deep backbends to form an archway under which she travels. Projections work well to set each scene, and there's a delightful interaction between them and the live action onstage when a dancer seemingly uses a match to light the backdrop's fireplace. Beauty and the Beast also has a joyous finale, with streams of dancers leaping across the stage, although it's a shame there's isn't a final romantic pas de deux for the title characters.

Even though I was underwhelmed by this production, Ballet Cymru is still a company I greatly admire, and one that deserves to fly the metaphorical flag for high-quality ballet in Wales.

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