David Nixon’s newest full-length ballet for his Northern Ballet company may be billed as a family-friendly show but it’s a good deal more sophisticated than that might at first suggest. The current tour showcases the talents of its young dancers within Nixon’s inventive choreography amid some extremely clever settings (Duncan Hayler) and wearing witty costumes (co-designed by Nixon and Julie Anderson).
The titular Beast in this version of the story is played (at the performance I saw) by Hironao Takahashi; he’s the monstrous creature into which the vain and callous Prince Orian (Javier Torres) has been metamorphosed by the somewhat unpleasant Fée Magnifique (Jessica Mrgan). Magnifique also has a mirror image, in the shimmering shape of la Fée Luminaire (Dreda Blow), who gives the Beast hope that he can yet be redeemed.
Master of ceremonies for all this is the sardonic Alfred, more than a mere manservant. With his stiffened coat tails and formalised gestures Darren Goldsmith looks every inch the part. If Orian’s friends are a bunch of self-serving courtiers, much the same can be said of Beauty’s two sisters and their hangers-on. Needless to say, these vanish sharply when the debt collectors follow close on the heels of Chantelle (Hannah Bateman) and Isabelle (Ayana Kanda)’s latest spending spree.
This scene is very funny with its enormous removal van and the sisters being stripped down to bra and panties. The calm centre is Beauty herself; Michela Paolacci is a lyrical dancer with an elegant line, shown to advantage in her pas de deux with Takahashi – who displays good elevation as some fine jumps. Most of the action happens in the first act with the second largely given over to set-piece dances which are kin to the divertissements which litter the majority of three-act ballets.
If Luminaire and Beauty have the most formal dances, the troll-like goblins which putter around the Beast’s lair and generally assist in the scene changes are a different sort of delight. John Pryce-Jones conducts the eclectic score which John Longstaff has sewn together from mainly French 19th and early 20th century music with a nice balance between the dancers’ needs and the composers’ original tempi.