The Royal Winnipeg Ballet
and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
in Beauty and the Beast
February 17, 18 & 19 at 7:30 pm; February 19 at 2:00 pm Queen Elizabeth Theatre
By Ed Farolan
Seeing the ethereal Evelyn Hart dance the part of Beauty in this classic fairytale reminds me of the great dames of ballet, particularly the splendid Margot Fonteyne. Her enthusiasm, her signature style, her willowy flights into the air, light as a feather, as she becomes Dance per se in perfect harmony, is a legacy that Canadian history of dance will leave to international ballet.
This interesting ballet was conceived and choreographed by BalletMet Columbus Artistic Director David Nixon for his company in 1997. It made its Canadian debut in Winnipeg last October, and tonight's opening performance marks the Vancouver premiere.
Nixon says that Disney's success with this fairytale was the impetus he needed to reach a larger audience: "The Disney film sparked an interest from the point of view that if you don't have a lot of resources to build a huge marketing campaign like Disney does, you need to build on something that's already been done for you. Basically, the general audience is interested in coming to things that they can identify with, that they have a certain comfort level with, knowing that at least they know something about what they're seeing."
I found Nixon's interpretation unique. He had , for example, in one dream sequence, two dancers representing the two personalities of the beast: the Dr. Jekyll & Mr .Hyde syndrome, the prince on one hand, and the beast on the other. And both dancers danced a "pas de trois" with Beauty.
The narrative approach was also interesting, with an old woman's voice in the background reading the tale of Beauty and the Beast, while a storybook image was projected on a scrim. Sometimes, though, the voiceover was drowned by the loud renditions of the VSO.
The children who were in attendance were captivated with a number of scenes, such as the evil fairy, La Fee Miserable (Tara Birtwhistle) swooping through the air on invisible harnesses, as well as the comic antics of the two nasty and envious sisters of Beauty, Chantelle (Joy Munk) and Isabelle (Cindy Winsor), and the magical pillows, danced by children, complements of Arts Umbrella. The goblins were also entertaining in their devilish ways.
Productionwise, I found the costumes and sets very engaging. I liked the Gothic atmosphere in the palace of the Beast, as well as the last scene , so bright and pure, where the Palace couples were dancing to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. There was an important scene that should have been magnified: when the Beast sacrifices himself by intercepting a deadly bolt. All I saw here was a little firework effect which lasted a few seconds. I felt that lighting and sound effects were needed in this crucial scene in order to show the transition from Beast to Prince.
But all in all, the audience, both young and old, enjoyed the two-hour performance, and there were even bravos from some audience members who were up on their feet! Before the performance, RWB's Artistic Director, Andre Lewis, announced the company's celebration of its 60th anniversary this year. Congratulations, and may you have another 60 years of productive work!