There are no singing teapots... this is Beauty And The Beast at it's boldest and it's best - Birmingham Royal ballet are back with a brand new season and an eleven-year-old favourite production from David Bintley.
From the initial curtain-up this deliciously dark ballet has you in awe. From Belle's vast library, towered high with books, we are seamlessly transported into the forrest and to the Beast's castle. With a grand, golden set design and exciting illusions you are easily lost in the magical world, before any dancing is even considered.
The story is of a price, as cruel as he was handsome who is turned into a Beast. The Beast encounters a merchant and spares him his life in exchange for his youngest daughter - Belle. The tale of choice dictated by love ends romantically, as always, and is a perfect excuse for a magical transformation scene.
Elisha Willis is an endearing Belle. Beauty by name and beautiful in nature, this is a subtle performance, from the heart to the hearts of the audience as you fall in love with Belle as she does with Beast. The narrative choreography ensures she has plenty of stage time with Tyrone Singleton who is in every way a commanding Beast. Dominating the stage, Singleton has an athletic approach to a character who is at first strong but manages to show a more tender Beast, mastering the creature's demise and is earning of sympathy.
The rest of the excellent company make up other animals. A charming bunch, it is pure delight to watch them leap in unison, spinning in all directions, it's sometimes chaotic but it's visually stunning. The story is lost only slightly in parts but a timeless classic such as this has more than enough to please on all levels.
Backstage on the production is even more fascinating as the magic unfolds. As always with Birmingham Royal Ballet, corners are certainly not cut... Despite it's grander, what is surprising is the simplicity of the set. Quite obviously impressive in scale but a team of dancers push the giant castle walls around to suggest change in setting, it's entirely traditional in method yet continues to offer the audience a spectacular treat. It is perhaps a shame that the exquisite detail in the set design just can't be seen clearly enough from the auditorium. In a rare opportunity to see the sets so closely we discovered first hand delights such as the hundreds of individual flowers, made from foam, covering the walls.
The costumes are exquisite. Considering the amount of dancing and the height in which they manager to leap, particularly for the Beast it's interesting to discover how heavy they actually are. Costumes line the corridors, multiple dresses for each Belle, 5 of whom will play the role during one week of performances. There are also multiple Beasts - each performer is rehearsed before going on, so that's a lot of rehearsing!
The doors to the Beast's castle are incredibly detailed with animalistic carvings. Just as detailed is the decoration on his chair and table. Both chair and table are created especially to allow magical illusions. The chair moves onto stage by itself, spinning around and the table is full of delights - such as plates that move and drinks that pour themselves.
See below for a selection of photographs from our tour behind the scenes. Click on the images to view them larger.
See this spectacular production of Beauty And The Beast by one of the world's greatest companies. Birmingham Royal Ballet present the opening of their autumn season at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 4th October (book here) with another production, Shadows Of War next week, which includes Miracle in the Gorbals - specially re-created for the company by Dame Gillian Lynne, from Robert Helpmann’s original work set in 1940s Glasgow and danced to music by Sir Arthur Bliss. From 8 - 11 October (book here).
Dame Gillian Lynne begins work on Miracle In The Gorbals