When thinking of Beauty and the Beast, it’s hard not to picture the Disney version — replete with talking candlesticks and dancing feather dusters. David Bintley’s version for Birmingham Royal Ballet is at Sadler’s Wells this week, and while not absent of magic altogether, this show lacks the character detail and unabashed joy of the animation.
The ballet opens with Belle (Elisha Willis) sitting and reading a book, the pages of which burst into life. In a scene that doesn't make sense until later, a cruel, crop-wielding hunter is cursed by a mysterious Woodsman. From under his cloak, the Woodsman also conjures up a Wild Girl who appears throughout the ballet, but whose character and purpose is unclear. Action then moves to Belle’s living room where her Cinderella-like sisters squabble while their father is forced to sell the family’s possessions.
The ballet’s main weakness is in the vacuousness of its leading characters. There is no sense of them as individuals before they meet, and no clear development of romance onstage. As my companion so rightly pointed out, “they fall in love in the interval” — the curtain falls on Act I with Belle terrified of the Beast and opens in Act II with the couple happily dancing together.
Beauty and the Beast does score points with some beautiful dancing — particularly from Yaoqian Shang as the Wild Girl and Tzu-Chao Chou as the Raven, but the ballet’s main saving graces are its music and sets. Glen Buhr’s orchestral score is wide-ranging, beautiful and dramatic; Philip Prowse’s designs are grand, imposing and clever, particularly in the Beast’s palace.
This fairy tale ballet is full of promise but Bintley’s choreography doesn’t always live up to expectation.
Birmingham Royal Ballet's run of Beauty and the Beast finishes tonight. The company is then performing Shadows of War tomorrow and Saturday. Londonist received a complimentary ticket to review this performance.