'Beauty and the Beast'
by Charlotte Kasner
November 12, 2011 -- Lilian Bayliss Theatre, London, UK
There can be few companies so deserving of decent funding than Ballet Cymru. For more than a quarter of a century, they have struggled against the odds to bring top quality productions, each one different form the other and each showcasing the solid ensemble work that has become their trademark.
It would be wrong to single out any individual as each performer is easily of soloist standard and all display a maturity of approach and depth of concentration that make “Beauty and the Beast” compelling. Each is a true dancer/actor, an accomplishment not always noticeable in our larger companies. Darius James’ choreography is demanding in places, requiring strength, smoothness and precision which is amply delivered. Perhaps dancers in major companies should be compelled to work this close to an audience in their first season as there is no room for slips or flagging. The rigours of touring are much greater in companies with comparatively few resources but Ballet Cymru dancers seem to thrive on it.
The integrity of the production was maintained throughout, with a handful of dancers feeling like twice as many. The clever use of projection was no mere exercise in multi-media presentation but told a story in itself. The beckoning arms of the candelabra were scarily brilliant and the diagonal lines of the dancers playing the servants in the Beast’s lair made effective suggestion of long, dank corridors. There was a nice moment as the ‘flames’ of the fire sprang to life in the projection after being ‘lit’; a knowing joke that supplied a nod and wink to the artifice without breaking the spell of suspension of belief.
Each sister in Belle’s story was well drawn with individual characterisation; I particularly liked the sister with the glasses. Olga Petiteau’s Belle was a Cinderella-like charmer who never descended into sickly sweetness but who seemed ever the outsider. Her sisters ganged up on her subtly without being parodies; there was a real sense of family with its inherent allegiances, alliances and conflicts.
But of course, it is the Beast who is the real showstopper. Mandev Sokhi has impeccable technique that was evident in last season’s productions but, in Beauty and the Beast, he has the added challenge of working on jump stilts (what would Maestro Cecchetti have made of that!!). The stilts have a natural shape of a hock and a hoof, with the projection of the foot rest providing scope for creating the Beast’s stifle. The head (presumably incorporating a helmet) suggested, simultaneously, a long-horn cow skull, an insect and a minotaur. His subtle limp belied the fact that this Beast is light-footed enough to execute a touching pas de deux as Belle gradually falls in love with him. The choreography was daring and encompassed the use of floor work with the support of the servants. Sokhi made the transition from upright to floor so smoothly that it was impossible to see how it was accomplished.
Steve Denton’s costumes are lovely, the deep reds of the sister's full skirted dresses echoed in Belle's jacket and cape. Belle's pale dress makes her easy to identify, with the red of the cape tying her to her family. The blues and greys are ideal for the Beast's vast house, the reds a reminder of their formerly wealthy past.
In these days when original scores are comparatively rare, David Westcott’s gentle evocation of the story is a delight. With more generous funding, it would be wonderful for the company to perform to a fully orchestrated version or, even better, to a live orchestra.
What a rare privilege afforded by the remarkable Ballet Cymru: how often is it possible, even in the most expensive seats, to see ballet that is so well executed with such detail? This is a company that could easily make the transition to the main house, so catch them soon before it is too late to observe them at close quarters.
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