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Beauty and the Beast – Grand Theatre, Leeds

Director, Choreographer and Costume designer: David Nixon OBE

Set Designer: Duncan Hayler

Lighting Designer: Tim Mitchell

Reviewer: Laura Stimpson


We all know the story of Beauty and the Beast, largely due to Walt Disney, his talking clocks and candlesticks. Well tonight the clocks and candlesticks were locked out of sight to make way for Northern Ballet’s take on this 18th century fairy tale.

The story of Beauty and the Beast, or La Belle et la Bete was originally written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740. It tells the tale of the self-obsessed, handsome Prince Orian (Kenneth Tindall). A hooded figure appears at his home asking for food, he mocks her and refuses her request, she unveils herself as the beautiful La Fee Magnifique (Victoria Sibson). Because his bad manners do not match his beautiful exterior, she decides to teach him a lesson by turning him into a wild beast (Ashley Dixon). The spell can only be broken if he can learn to love and be loved in return.

The story follows the sweet, well mannered Beauty (Martha Leebolt) who lives with her wealthy father and spoilt sisters. After losing their wealth they move to the forest and live in a broken down bus. One day when Beauty’s father (Darren Goldsmith) is walking in the forest, he picks a rose. The beast fights with him and says that if he does not send one of his daughters to live with him he will kill him. We then follow Beauty’s life with the Beast, she is at first scared but soon learns that the beast will not harm her. And of course, with an ending like all fairy tales Beauty eventually grows to love the Beast, the spell is reversed, they get married and live happily ever after.

Northen Ballet present this story beautifully, the music is a perfect mix, all of the pieces have French connections and were composed between 1870 and 1938. The composers included are: Saint-Saens, Bizet, Debussy and Glazunov. The Northern Ballet Sinfonia, under the direction of Vasilis Tsiatsianis play well throughout, creating a beautiful base for the performance. There were some times when the orchestra seemed a little out of time, for example some unison string playing didn’t quite move together, but this certainly did not detract from the performance. A wonderful addition to the orchestra is a recording of the Nicolas organ of Southwell Minster played by Darius Battiwalla, it adds a new depth to the music when the beast enters , building tension and creating a mood fit for a beast.

The dancing is, of course, beautiful. Nixon’s wonderful choreography has the ability to effortlessly portray power, sensitivity and humour through movement. A highlight for me, and creating laughter from the audience is the scene when Beauty’s sisters Chantelle (Georgina May) and Isabelle (Pippa Moore) return from a shopping trip and the house maids have to carry in their shopping, the choreography is very cheeky. Another highlight is the fight scene between the Beast and Beauty’s father, this is choreographed beautifully and shows Ashley Dixon at his best as the Beast. The ensemble performances are a spectacle, especially towards the end of the performance and show the talent of the dancers of Northern Ballet. Act one and three are spectacular and exciting, there is a bit of a lull in Act two, mainly due to the story telling. Fortunately this is the shortest act and the lull is soon forgotten once we get into the excitement of the second half.

The overall highlight for me however, and often something overlooked is the set and lighting design. The set, designed by Duncan Hayler, is one of the best I’ve ever seen, I couldn’t help but be wowed by what would pull out from where, what would turn into something else, and when the mirrors would transform into the back of a reversing lorry. It is clever, functional and spectacular without being over the top and fussy, something many try but rarely achieve. The lighting design by Tim Mitchell is equally as impressive and quickly creates the changing mood of the performance.

Northern Ballet’s Beauty and the Beast is spectacular, exciting and accessible. It is a perfect Christmas gift to avid ballet lovers or a definite must see for anyone wanting to try out ballet for the first time.

Beauty and the Beast runs at Leeds Grand Theatre until 31st December 2011 and tours nationally in 2012.

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