Concourse Theatre, Chatswood, 7 March
Victorian State Ballet’s Beauty & the Beast is a light-hearted romp through this well-known story of love and redemption. Particularly suitable for families, children, and audiences unfamiliar with or new to ballet, the narrative as it unfolds is easy to follow, and the performances by Victorian State Ballet’s young dancers were fresh and engaging.
As listed in the program, this company of twenty-five dancers – most of whom look to be in their late teens or early twenties – is made up of sixteen company members, four apprentices, two emerging artists and three trainees. While the cast doesn't have the polished technique and near perfection of line that you would see in larger, better resourced companies like The Australian Ballet and Queensland Ballet; the dancers still displayed suitably advanced ballet skills, and looked fully invested in whatever part they were playing, large or small.
Michelle Cassar de Sierra’s choreography is full of movement and vigour. The ballet goes for just over two hours with one twenty-minute interval, but never slows down. Multiple pas de deux between the main characters of the Beast (Tynan Wood) and Belle (Elise Jacques) punctuate the work, highlighting the evolving nature of their relationship as the story progresses. Elise Jacques was charming in the role of Belle and Tynan Wood displayed strong partnering skills as the Beast. I particularly liked the points at which the choreography veered away from the purely classical to incorporate more contemporary movement. Examples of this are the Beast’s transformation solo, and choreography for the Rose, which was lyrically embodied by Aimee Hodgkinson.
Cieran Edinger as Gaston drew plenty of laughs for his tendency to flex a bicep at any given opportunity, but also captured the vanity and hubris of Gaston’s character in his body language and expression throughout the ballet. Other highlights included the swift footwork and expansive movement quality of Sera Schuller both as a Villager and later on as the anthropomorphised wardrobe from Walt Disney’s animated version of Beauty and the Beast. Janae Kerr as Feather duster-Plumette and Alana Puddy as Cogsworth also gave strong performances.
The costuming for this production is simple but mostly effective. The hardest roles to define by costume are those anthropomorphised household objects that many viewers would fondly remember from Disney’s animation, and it did take a bit of imagination and guesswork to work out who was who in this part of the ballet. But given limited resources, I think the company has done a pretty good job of costuming the work as a whole. There are no actual sets as such, but several different backdrops help to establish a sense of place, and the lighting design, by Martin Sierra, is richly colourful and vivid.
The ballet is set to a musical hodge-podge of works by composers from Mozart, to Pagini, Amato, Adenot and Lanchberry. Despite being eminently danceable, there are a few points at which the transition between different pieces of music could be smoother.
Appearances by younger dancers (from ballet schools in Sydney) are placed in the second half of the show, after the main dramatic arc of the story has been completed and the Beast transformed back into a handsome prince. Doubtless, plenty of those in the Sydney audience were there to watch siblings or children cast to perform with the Victorian State Ballet and those young dancers did quite a good job, with what was presumably limited rehearsal time. And what an excellent experience for those young dancers taking part.
Victorian State Ballet will be touring Beauty and the Beast to a number of regional Australian and New Zealand towns (in addition to several cities). I imagine a work like this will be of particular value to regional audiences with limited access to professional ballet productions and performances.
Beauty and the Beast will be touring to New Zealand, then to various cities and towns in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland. See Victorian State Ballet's website for details.
Pictured top are Tynan Wood as the Beast and Elise Jacques as Belle. Photo: Ron Fung.