Monday, October 08, 2012

Beauty and the Beast


First performed in its current production in Leeds, December 2011, and now on tour throughout the UK this October and November, Northern Ballet's Beauty and the Beast, choreographed by artistic director David Nixon.

In the course of the performance at Theatre Royale, Norwich, there was a giant hologram, full stage projections, on stage explosions, a judicious use of strobe lighting and bungee cords, seven different stage settings and seventeen scene changes in total. No mean achievement for a company which is currently suffering the effects of a draconian  25% funding cut.  

Artistic director David Nixon became interested in choreography when at the National Ballet School of Canada while still a dancer. His interest became more serious when he took over his first company, stating-

'I discovered that my work was pivotal in developing dancers’ potential and that I had an ability to tell stories through dance'. 

David Nixon has been artistic director of Northern Ballet since 2001. He's created new versions of Madame Butterfly, Swan Lake, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Peter Pan and The Three Musketeers. A highlight of his choreographic career is his innovative Dracula (1999). He received an OBE in the 2010 New Year Honours for his services to Ballet and his latest work, Cleopatra, was given it's world premiere in  Leeds in February 2011. 

The skeletal framework of Nixon's stylish interpretation of the archetypal story of the opposites, of outer beauty and inner moral worth, is the music of several French romantic composers. Setting the atmosphere firmly in the world of the daimonic and fairy-tale, the ballet opened with the Northern Ballet Sinfonia's lively rendering of Saint-Saen's Danse Macabre. 

Highlights of the evening included a tender pas de deux by the principal dancer's (Martha Leebolt and Giuliano Contadini) to the music of Debussy's Clair de Lune and a dream sequence pas de trois, in which Beauty and the Prince dance a rapturous love duet while the Beast despairingly gambols around them in torment. It was also nice to hear a zestful extract from Glazunov's The Seasons, a sprightly invitation to the dance matched by a riot of colour in costume change. Interspersed throughout the romantic fantasy there was humour, in particular from Beauty's two vain shopaholic sisters and most amusingly from the Beast's ape-like servants. The  prop link between a hand-held white rose and a giant-scale white rose in which Beauty slept as a guest of the Beast (photo above) was neat too.

Personally, I felt the last movement of Debussy's La Mer seemed a little too powerful and out of synch emotionally with the ballet's narrative, however, the love-story was well-served returning to the music of the composer opening the ballet; the celebrated pomp and grandeur of the final movement of Saint-Saens Organ Symphony was highly effective accompaniment to the climax and apotheosis of the fairy-tale ballet. The company of dancers received rapturous applause from an appreciative audience which seemed to enjoy the acrobatic talents of the Beast slightly more than Beauty's charms, for he received the louder applause at the curtain-call.

The story of Beauty and the Beast has inspired various artists since it's first recorded appearance in the 18th century. Earlier last century, the French multi-genre artist Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) made a film based upon what is, in essence, an utterly French tale of love, beauty and deception, La Bete et La Belle (1946)The American composer Philip Glass in turn, wrote an opera in 1994 based on Cocteau's film, which, closely following each scene, is effectively a new soundtrack for Cocteau's masterpiece.  

First performed in 1997, it's beginning to look as if Beauty and the Beast is establishing itself firmly in the ballet repertoire. I certainly hope so as David Nixon's stunning interpretation deserves preserving in the ephemeral world of modern dance. But why waste words attempting to describe dance and movement in Nixon's interpretation of the fairy-tale Beauty and the Beast when a generous 2 minute plus video clip, courtesy of Northern Ballet, can be seen here. 


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