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Northern Ballet, Beauty and the Beast, Leeds Grand Theatre, 17 Dec 2016, 19:30
To my great delight and surprise, I enjoyed every single moment of David Nixon's Beauty and the Beast. Delight is obvious. Ballet is expensive. One goes for a good time - not to be bored out of one's skull. Surprise? Well that is because I saw the ballet on 30 Dec 2011 and while I was not exactly bored I was not in rapture either:
"As for Nixon's choreography the first two acts reminded me of early McMillan - works like Anastasia which are not performed very often nowadays for a reason. But the last Act reminded me of Balanchine and I think it was that Act which saved the ballet. The pas de deux between Beauty - danced exquisitely by Martha Leebolt - and the beast showed just what the choreographer can do. Also impressive were Victoria Sibson and Hannah Bateman who danced the fairies, Hironeo Takahashi, the beast's servant and the coryphées, Michela Paolacci, Ayana Kanda, Christie Duncan and Isabella Gasparini who were four sprites. The last Act of the ballet could well stand as a work in its own right. I hope to see that Act many times again but I would happily skip the first two acts with its old bus and bailiffs" (see Ballet and Intellectual Property - my Excuse for reviewing "Beauty and the Beast" 31 Dec 2011 IP Yorkshire).Funny how something like an old bus can make such an impression. Sir Matthew Bourne's curtain climbing Aurora sent me up the wall in his Sleeping Beauty (see Why can't I be nicer to Matthew Bourne? 6 Apr 2013) and it took The Car Men to bring me down again (see Motoring 25 June 2015). Similarly, bikes on stage belong in Ashton's Enigma Variations - not in Swan Lake (see Up the Swannee 17 March 2016).
The old bus was still there last night but I didn't mind it at all. I could appreciate its part in the story. True, bed and breakfast accommodation or a flat on the top but one floor of a tower block where the lift does not work and stairwells are strewn with syringes and reek of urine might be a more usual destination under the Homelessness Act 2002 but, hey, this is theatre. Surely a choreographer or dramaturge is entitled to some poetic licence. Except for placing the story in the present with bailiffs, a removal van and, of course, the old bus Nixon kept pretty close to de Villeneuve's story which is essentially Cinderella in reverse with Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy and dashes of King Lear thrown in for good measure (see Beauty and the Beast Story on Northern Ballet's website).
So why the change of heart second time round? Well, it helped that some of my favourite dancers were in the show. Ayami Miyota was Beauty and Mlindi Kulashe a most magnificent beast. Joseph Taylor was the handsome Prince Orian or the beast before he was taught some manners by La Fée Magnifique danced by the striking Victoria Sibson who also performed that role when I last saw that ballet 5 years ago. Abigail Prudames, another of my favourites, danced La Fée Luminaire (the good fairy) delightfully. Hironao Takahashi, who had danced Alfred 5 years ago, was Beauty's father, a good choice, in my view, because Takahashi has acquired gravitas and dignitas with seniority. Alfred, or the beast's faithful retainer, was danced by Matthew Koon. Yet another of my very favourite dancers, Rachael Gillespie, danced one of Beauty's feckless sisters. The other was Mariana Rodrigues who also danced well. Indeed, everybody did last night so congratulations to all.
I think the choreography has also changed a bit. The show seemed tighter, tenser and more dramatic. Apparently, 20 minutes has been cut. A conclusion reached on Friday night by me and Janet McNulty after a lengthy correspondence on Facebook over whether the ballet had three acts in 2011 or just two as it has now. Janet insisted that it had two even though I distinctly remembered two intervals and wrote that there were three acts in my review less than 24 hours after seeing the show. Janet seemed so sure and she will have seen the show several times in 2011 as well as several times more on this run. I feared early signs of senile dementia 5 years ago until my mind was put at rest by one of Janet's friends who found the 2011 programme which mentioned three acts. I can't remember exactly what has been cut and, clearly, neither can Janet but all the good bits remain, The joyful duet between Beauty and Orian with its fish dive at the end. The beast's thrilling one-handed lift with Beauty spreadeagled several feet above the ground. The amusing dance of the goblins (Matthew Topliss, Jonathan Hanks, Jesse Milligan and Lorenzo Trosello. Equally amusing little touches like Beauty taking tea from a cup while the bear lapped up his from the saucer like a dog.
Beauty and the Beast will be at The Grand until the 7 Jan 2017. I am glad to recommend it. There seem to be quite a few seats available for most performances although the theatre was quite full last night. While the best Christmas ballet this year remains Ted Brandsen's Coppelia for the Dutch National Ballet by a country mile and Peter Wright's version of The Nutcracker for the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden is definitely #2, Beauty and the Beast is still a good one. I saw glimmers of the old Northern Ballet Theatre more than once last night.