The story of Beauty and the Beast has been told in various forms since the mid-16th century.
Since the early 1990s, however, Disney seems to have had the monopoly on it. There’s no denying Disney’s animated film is a wonderful version, but the classic fairytale, with its themes of sin and redemption through love, lends itself to a variety of tellings. David Bintley’s sumptuous ballet, first seen in 2003, is equally magical.
And while there aren’t any songs, there is a captivating score from Canadian composer, Glenn Buhr. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia, under conductor Paul Murphy, create a soundtrack so immersive to the dance we sense we are in a different world where at times we hear the roar of a beast.
From the start Bintley draws us into his narrative, with the set opening like a huge storybook and Belle in her element among a library of books.
Philip Prowse’s extravagant set design seamlessly opens and closes, slides and folds to draw us deeper into this gothic fairytale. Mark Jonathan’s dim atmospheric lighting is used to full effect when we enter the enchanted forest leading to the Beast’s Castle, which shimmers with gold décor and flickering candles.
There are some clever theatrical tricks such as animated birds, magic chairs, which sweep across the room when needed, and wine that pours itself. These add to magic but never detract from the dance, which ranges from the breathtaking corps works where Belle (Yvette Knight) appears flying high, carried on the wings of a flock of ravens, to the detailed character performances of Belle’s father (Rory Mackay) and sisters Fière (Laura Perkiss) and Vanité (Samara Downs).
The Beast’s ball provides light relief with some terrific comedy cameos from Laura Day as Grandmère and James Barton as Monsieur Cochon. But it is the dark, brooding presence of the Beast (Brandon Lawrence) that has us hooked on every entrance. It is a challenging role, not least because of having to convey emotion while dancing in a heavy costume and a mask.
Next to the delicate Knight, Lawrence’s Beast is both terrifying and tender. This underlying edge of tension is finally lifted in a joyful final pas de deux, when Belle’s love transforms him back into a handsome Prince.
Beauty and the Beast marks the final tour for choreographer David Bintley after 24 years as Artistic Director of Birmingham Royal Ballets. The production feels like a celebration, not just of his work, but of the art itself. That a classical ballet of such high calibre in dance, design and score has been produced in the 21st century gives a signal that this is an art form very much alive. And, while largely aimed at grown-ups, it was clear by the reaction of youngsters in the audience, this is a ballet that captivates old and young alike.★ ★ ★ ★
Read our interview with David Bintley as he reflects on 24 years as Director of BRB.
Find out what it takes to be a Principal Dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet in our interview with Delia Mathews who appears as Belle in selected performances of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Beauty and the Beast.