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Birmingham Royal Ballet

Beauty and the Beast


Photo by Bill Cooper

Music – Glenn Buhr

Choreography – David Bintley

Designs – Philip Prowse

Lighting – Mark Jonathan

Sadler’s Wells

28 October – 1 November, 2008



A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Birmingham Royal Ballet’s delightful production of Beauty and the Beast offers something for everyone. There is, of course, the sublimely psychological 18th century fairytale by Leprince de Beaumont that the ballet is based upon. Then there is David Bintley’s marvellously individualistic choreography and the finely executed dancing of this production. As if that isn’t enough, there is Glenn Buhr’s multi-layered score to admire, as well as Philip Prowse’s transformative, unravelling set designs lovingly influenced by Cocteau’s definitive filmic masterpieceof the fairytale, La Belle et la Bete (1945). Finally, enveloping all of the aforementioned in a magically mesmerising mist is Mark Jonathan’s wonderfully atmospheric lighting.

Belle awaits her merchant father’s return, though unbeknown to her, his fortunes have failed. While she waits, she ponders a book in the library of their comfortable home, while in another part of the forest, as they say, a young prince and his friends enjoy their ardent pursuit of an unfortunate fox. Before they can corner their prey, a green-cloaked woodsman suddenly appears and enchants the men, turning them into animals and, in a neat case of symbolic role reversal, transforms the fox they have been chasing into a ‘flame haired girl.’ When Beauty’s father returns, just before his zealous creditors can do their worst, a letter arrives reversing his fortunes, necessitating his journey through the heart of a deep, dark forest. His two elder, vain and jealous (a la Cinderella’s step-sisters) daughters ask him to bring them gowns and jewels on his return, but his youngest daughter, whom he calls Beauty, merely requests a rose.

Even if you are already familiar with the story of Beauty and the Beast, there are several lovely surprises awaiting you in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production. David Bintley’s narrative, expressive choreography allows each character to convey their own particular nuances of the fairytale, through movement and facial expression, so much so that after a time, it would almost be possible for one to forget that they are watching a ballet, if they were so inclined. There are also elements of opera about the performances, but the acting is, perhaps most akin to that of the cinema, where facial expressions are of the utmost importance, though they thankfully, never stray towards silent, over the top influences. However, the more ridiculous the character, the more exaggerated their movements and expressions, as in the case of Belle’s two silly, self-serving sisters whose clothing and mannerisms are far more outlandish than her own, and their male counterparts like their disenchanted hoggish Hogarthian suitor who sports a snout! Similarly, a bent up old woman, a bony, rogue cheeked vicar and other stereotypes especially favoured in 18th century cartoons occupy the fringes of this ballet, much in the way that bit players skirt the edges of a filmic mise en scene. In that way, the dancing itself almost acts as a frame for the overall expressiveness of those performing the roles in this sublimely satisfying production.

Nearly everything about this ballet slots wonderfully into everything else to the point that flaws, if there were any, would stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. My only possible complaint would be that in the group dance sequences featuring the raven and other darkly featured birds, I found some of the choreography a bit lacking in terms of originality and I also felt that those segments might have been stronger had they been a little shorter. However, the many unparalleled elements of this production assure that it is, indeed a true stand out one.

Stunning performances from the two press night leads in particular, Ambra Vallo as Belle and Tyrone Singleton as the Beast were beautiful and heartfelt to the point that the heartstrings were always, indisputably, but ever so gently pulled in the directions appropriate to the movement of the story. Vallo’s delicately graceful dancing made her Beauty seem as fragile and light as a butterfly and Singleton conversely cut a dashing figure, even in his beastly attire, so much so that the two combined made for an intriguingly romantic duo. When Beast lifted his Beauty aloft, I am sure that many a young, (and possibly, not so young) feminine heart soared with her.

Under Bintley’s knowing direction, Belle’s continual treatment of the Beast as a gentleman, even during moments when his animal nature threatens to get the better of him are handled with a sensitivity that allows the pain of the enchanted young man’s dilemma to show through, despite the mask covering his princely features, thus generating sympathy for his plight. Belle similarly seems genuinely pained by the fact that she rejects Beast’s offer of marriage, even though she logically does so because she does not love him. An understanding of the dualistic, Jungian (male a.k.a. animus/ female or anima) nature of this fairytale allows the strength of its message of love despite differences to take hold. This is accomplished beautifully here.

There is a myriad of stunning sequences in this ballet: the merchant’s unexpected arrival at the Beast’s castle, the ball at the castle in which Belle is introduced to her animalistic host’s legion of potentially four footed friends and so on. But the highlights of this production are far too deep and varied to be mentioned here. The production’s artistic, painterly aspects provide many illuminating and/or subconscious moments for its audience.
Glenn Buhr’s score, especially written for this ballet is also something of a marvel in that just when you think it won’t do anything unforeseen, it does, combining traditional elements, almost reminiscent of Tchaikovsky with ambient and otherwise, more indefinable ones. In some of the most compelling moments of the production, Buhr’s multiplicitious score melds perfectly with Philip Prowse’s mist enshrouded sets, especially those which comprise the Beast’s stately lair, both inside and out, and Mark Jonathan’s mysteriously dreamy lighting.

No matter how many times you’ve seen Beauty and the Beast enacted, in whatever medium, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s unforgettable production is sure to make into you a true ballet believer!



Photo by Bill Cooper


Belle: Ambra Vallo
The Beast: Tyrone Singleton
The Wild Girl: Laetita Sardo
The Merchant: David Morse
The Raven: Joseph Caley
Vanite: Samara Downs
Fiere: Carol-Anne Millar
Monsieur Cochon: James Grundy



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