United Kingdom Various Composers, Beauty and the Beast: Northern Ballet/David Nixon (choreography, direction ) and Northern Ballet Sinfonia/ John Pryce-Jones. (conductor), Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 15.3.2012 (SRT)
Prince Orion – Kenneth Tindall
The Beast – Ashley Dixon
Beauty – Martha Leebolt
When it opened in Leeds last December, Beauty and the Beast was the most successful production Northern Ballet had ever staged in their home city. It now embarks on its UK tour with the large stage of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre providing its first stop.
One thing Northern Ballet do indisputably well is tell a story, and this show retells the classic fairytale very successfully. Duncan Hayler’s sets evoke each location with subtle distinctiveness, using shattered mirrors to suggest dark magic, and the recurring theme of the rose unifies the disparate scenes very successfully. There is also a deft comic touch when Beauty’s family are forced to live in a run-down car once the creditors, acting on the massive bills run up by Beauty’s vain sisters, repossess the contents of their home.
The choice of music was successful only sporadically, however. The score consists mainly of selections from French music (with the somewhat random inclusion of Glazunov). Sometimes the chosen music worked well in its out-of-place context. The casting of the curse, for example, took place at the climax of the Danse Macabre, and the finale of La Mer worked surprisingly well for the scene when the Beast traps Beauty’s father. Best of all, the unique soundscape of Poulenc’s Organ Concerto was perfect for the spooky atmosphere of the Beast’s house when Beauty arrives at first. Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony was a very odd choice, though: while the jubilation of the conclusion should work for the final wedding scene, the block-like nature of the sound meant that it just isn’t a dancerly piece and to me it seemed clunky as the ballet’s finale. The orchestra played well but sounded small for the repertoire they were playing. More seriously, the recording of the organ of Southwell Minster was not always in sync with the orchestra, creating some ear-crunching moments, particularly in the final ten minutes.
For me, the sporadic success of the music was reflected in an only intermittently fine performance as a whole. The clear narrative style of Nixon’s choreography fitted each character well and the story developed with clarity. The dancing of the principals was persuasive, especially from Martha Leebolt as Beauty, and there were some very fine set-pieces, most notably Beauty’s first duet with the Prince (in a vision) and a trio for Beauty, the Beast and the Prince at the start of the second half, both of which fitted the music with studied elegance. I just couldn’t engage with the character of the Beast, however. To me he seemed understated and even a little vacuous, so that the balance between him and Beauty was always slightly out of kilter, leaving a very serious hole at the centre of the work. It’s nothing to do with Ashley Dixon’s dancing, which was accomplished and engaging: he just wasn’t given much to say as a character, and it was telling that the strongest scenes for Beauty were with the Prince, not the Beast. A pity, as with a stronger central pairing and more carefully curated music this could have had much more power as a work.
Beauty and the Beast is at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre until Saturday 17 March and then tours nationwide. For full details go to www.northernballet.com