Ambitious yet triumphant, the Birmingham Royal Ballet Company presents a dark, mystical retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Filled with enchanting moments, here is everything required for the perfect fairytale ballet.
Immediately, designer Philip Prowse stuns us with the opening scene: Belle amongst a library of books, reading as the story of the curse comes to life around her. Nothing comes in halves in this performance, and each scene transition reveals even greater and more intricate designs. During the journey into the woods, magnificent set pieces peel back like the pages of a book, each exposing deeper, more intimate layers of the Beast’s castle.
The production’s attention to detail is remarkable, from each location to the smallest prop; such is the dedication to curating a captivating atmosphere. Features range from the huge gilded mirrors in the Beast’s hall to animatronic birds of prey, and yes – even a magical candelabrum. One small regret is that much of the time these impressive pieces are poorly lit. Atmospheric darkness only goes so far, it seems a crime not to showcase such works of art.
Whilst not as iconic or instantly recognisable as more established ballets, Glenn Buhr’s score, written especially for this production, is organic, dreamlike and dramatic when necessary. With the music taking a backseat, it allows the dancers to lean into their physical storytelling, with some movements lending themselves towards expressive theatre rather than ballet.
The principal role is masterfully performed by Delia Matthews, encompassing the grace and curiosity for which Belle is known. The Beast is not the grossly overbearing physical authority on stage as perhaps is expected. Instead, Tyrone Singleton brings a feline fluidity to his manifestation. From the costume to the behaviour, much of the Beast seems wrought from large cats. The unpredictable wildness of nature melds with cautious domesticity. Singleton’s Beast is an electric presence.
Despite their talents, the dancers are often upstaged by the beguiling light-footed charm of the Vixen/Wild Girl (Beatrice Parma/Yaoqian Shang). The inverse twin to the Beast’s curse, an unusual character in this familiar story, creates an interesting perspective on life with the Beast, and her relationship with him is touching.
The pas de deux finale between Matthews and Singleton is poignant and romantic, rounding this performance off with the perfect fairytale ending, leaving many in the audience on their feet. David Bintley has created a masterpiece of gothic ballet.
Beauty and The Beast
13th March 2019
Image: Festival Theatre