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Ballet Victoria’s “Beauty and the Beast”

Ballet Victoria, led by artistic director and choreographer Paul Destrooper, is currently dancing a wonderful version of the classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast at Victoria’s Royal Theatre. Even though I’m more familiar with the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman Disney version (watched many times while the kids were growing up), the original – here adapted for ballet – is brilliantly satisfying.

If you’re in Victoria BC, consider supporting your local arts by attending a performance either tomorrow or Thursday evening at 7:30pm. After seeing it tonight, I was impressed by several aspects of the production. First, I’m continually amazed by how much our arts organizations create with so little. Multi-media, if it’s deployed, might consist of a sheet artfully draped – so artfully that you’re convinced you just saw a 3-D transformation (more on that in a sec). Whether it’s theater, dance, or music, you won’t find any company or troupe or ensemble or orchestra drawing on huge budgets to produce their performances, nor are there armies of dancers, performers, or musicians overwhelming audiences through sheer quantity. No, it all gets done through quality – and the quality is really very very good.

Ballet Victoria‘s Beauty and the Beast fits right into that category of excellent quality produced as if by magic on relatively tiny budgets. Of course it’s not magic at all – it’s discipline, training, excellent choreography, fantastic dancing (and acting), delightful costumes, artful sets and lighting, and resourceful, imaginative staging: hard work that comes together to look like magic so that audiences come away absolutely delighted.

Take that sheet, for example: in a dance, it’s difficult to manage the Beast’s transformation into the Prince – it’s easy to tell about it (tell the story), Disney can show it (make the movie), but how do you present it on stage with dancers? This is where, quite unexpectedly, the sheet comes in: in an earlier sequence, prior to the penultimate scene with the dying Beast (who is about to be transformed into the Prince), Belle had fallen into a slumber in which she had a surrealist reverie that anticipated the Beast’s true nature as a Prince. The audience has therefore already glimpsed the transformed Beast.

Then, as Belle’s reverie ends, the Prince exits through a curtained passageway while the Beast enters it in the same instant: they pass, brushing against one another, exactly in the middle of the passageway, completing the transformation of “imagined” Prince back into “real” Beast. As the Prince exits stage left, he’s behind a transparent scrim that looks like a mirror before which the Beast stands, watching his better self depart.

Now, fast-forward to the dying Beast scene: The Beast lies on the floor, dead. Belle discovers him and collapses by his side. The Rose Fairy and her attendants enter and surround the pair. As they dance toward the front of the stage, they pick up the front edge of a large sheet (not visible till now). As they lift up this expanse of cloth, they effectively hide the dancers (including Belle and the Beast). Colorful pastel light projected on to the cloth creates the illusion that it’s some kind of massive fog – or fairy dust! – behind which a magical transformation is occurring. The dancers deftly work the cloth: they are underneath it, and shimmy it over their bodies and heads. As it’s lifted out of the way, it reveals Belle and the Prince, exactly as he appeared in Belle’s earlier surrealistic reverie: this time, the transformation is “real.” They wake up, and …well, all’s well that ends well, right?

That’s just one example of creative staging. Ballet Victoria has worked this kind of magic throughout all of Beauty and the Beast. Oh, and did I mention that the dancing is terrific?

Choreography: Paul Destrooper

Belle: Andrea Bayne

Beast: Geoff Malcolm

Prince: Robb Beresford

Father: David Beales

Additional cast: Tao Kerr (Rose Fairy); Vimala Jeffrey-Howe & Christie Wood/ Amanda Radetzky & Brichelle Brucker (the Two Sisters – alternating cast: they also dance the part of Roses); Risa Kobayashi, Natsuki Murase (Roses); Ellen McDonald and Rieko Yamagata (Gargoyles Moyne & Zulme).

Lighting Design: Adam Wilkinson; Costume Design: Jane Wood; Set Design: Geoff Malcolm; Beast Make-up Design: Helen Kennedy Buchholz; Accessory Design: Christie Wood; Stage Manager: Jason King.

Music: recorded (Delibes, Dvorak, Gounod, Tchaikovsky)

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