Friday, July 19

Northern Ballet: Beauty & The Beast – Leeds Grand Theatre

There have been countless versions of Beauty & The Beast over the years in film and the theatre, but David Nixon’s version for Northern Ballet is a million miles away from the saccharine Disney version delving deep into the darker elements of this love story that has its origins in Ancient Greece.

Northern Ballet’s former artistic director looks to Cocteau’s classic 1946 movie for his inspiration, which offers the dancers a much more challenging understanding of how if we fail to look beyond exteriors we will miss things like love, compassion and the inner demons that make us all human.

Although this is a far more subtle reading of this fable it retains all the key elements as a vain prince who is cursed by his narcissism to become a beast until he can find true love when someone finally sees behind his scary exterior.  Beauty and her family have been cast out into the woods where she comes across The Beast’s bleak castle and, well, you know the rest.


©Tristram Kenton:

Nixon has always been a dancer’s choreographer, so he gives all the company plenty of space to show off their technical abilities and their acting chops.  Leading soloist Saeka Shirai offers both grace and grit in her performance as Beauty trying to make sense of her mixed feelings for what appears to an animal, but with human characteristics lurking somewhere. Her dream sequence duet with Jackson Dwyer as the vain Prince Orian is full of power and passion, and Dwyer is believable as the strutting royal.

Nixon has made The Beast a really tough role as he eschewed prosthetics and a big costume, instead relying on his lead dancer to capture The Beast’s nature and torment through movement. Harris Beattie clevelry uses his body and training to create ape-like movements that give The Beast real depth and pain that makes the ending work. When Shirai, Dwyer and Beattie come together for a trio that deftly explore The Beast’s duality, and Beauty’s fear and confusion, it is a masterclass in how ballet is uniquely placed to dig deep into humanity’s complexities.  

As always, the supporting cast is top class, and none more than Areys Merill and Harriet Marden’s witty dancing playing Beauty’s materialistic sisters as Nixon takes on capitalism.  The scene where sisters preen with their vacuous friends only concerned with their finery and what they can buy is great fun, before a huge removal van appears on stage to whisk Beauty’s family away to penury. The hugely experienced Dominique Larose and Abigail Prudames are nicely mysterious as warring good and evil fairies. Special mention to Albert Gonzalez Orts, Jin Ishil, Araon Ko and Yu Wakizuka who are great fun as the cavorting castle Goblins.

Nixon is really busy in this show as he also designed the elegant costumes which add to all scenes, especially the magical ending. Duncan Hayler’s set, aided by Tim Mitchell’s moody lighting design, adds to an air of magic and menace helping the company to make the most of this big stage, and the vast white rose symbolising The Beast’s heart is memorable.

As always the Northern Sinfonia prove that productions with this level of ambition need a live orchestra, and under Associate Conductor Daniel Parkinson’s baton they add light and shade throughout a carefully curated score, playing particularly powerfully on Bizet’s Seven movements from Jeux d’enfants.

After a seven year gap Northern Ballet were right to bring back this intelligent and witty take on a classic story reminding us that while judging a book by its cover might be a cliché in the case of Beauty & The Beast it proves to a lesson we should all take onboard in a digital age where narcissism is rampant.

Beauty & The Beast is at Leeds Playhouse until Sunday 9th June. To book https://northernballet.com/beauty-and-the-beast or Leeds Grand Box Office 0113 243 0808 or www.leedsheritagetheatres.com

Reviewer: Paul Clarke

Reviewed: 4th June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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