A buzzing full house made it a fairytale opening night for WA Ballet’s Beauty & the Beast, with classic themes of love and sacrifice danced out amidst a world of fairies, goblins and enchanted mirrors.
A handsome but vain Prince (Christian Luck) is turned into an ugly Beast (Matthew Lehmann) by a malevolent fairy (Jayne Smeulders) and can only be freed by true love. Enter sweet Beauty (Brooke Widdison-Jacobs), whose family has been brought to ruin by the spending habits of her two sisters. She sacrifices her freedom to live with the hideous Beast to save her father and finds true love as the Beast finds redemption.
This was the Australian premiere of Northern Ballet Artistic Director and choreographer David Nixon’s Beauty & the Beast and his re-imagining of the French fairy tale for the ballet stage was dark but powerfully redemptive.
The lead roles of the innocent Beauty and the troubled Beast were in the safe hands of WA Ballet Principal Artists Brooke Widdison-Jacobs and Matthew Lehmann, whose experience and technical skill are evident on stage. Although Beauty was slightly over-acted at times by Widdison-Jacobs, the scene in which she falls in love with the Beast is truly moving.
The production dragged a little towards the end of the first half, with a little too much self-reflection by the Beast and an oddly jarring discotheque scene in his lair, but picked up again after the interval. Beauty’s self-absorbed sisters provided some comic relief throughout the performance, as did the appearance of four ghoulish goblins.
Fast-paced choreography and a variety of scenes gave plenty of opportunities for soloists to shine, and it was a privilege to watch retiring veteran WA Ballet Jane Smeulders’ in her final performance as the malevolent La Fee Magnifique.
International costume designer Julie Anderson did an excellent job on costumes and the good fairy, La Fee Luminaire (Florence Leroux-Coleno) literally shone every time she flitted around the stage in her trailing silvery ensemble. The costumes, set design and choreography of the final scene were particularly striking, with warm, bright lighting, an Art Deco vibe and shimmery, gold-decked dancers highlighting the love the Beast had found at the end of his dark journey.
All this to the sounds of West Australian Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the nimble hands of renowned conductor Myron Romanul. The arrangement of pieces, written by mostly French composers, aptly portrayed the atmosphere throughout the performance, creating a rich and dramatic backdrop for the fast-moving plot.
It’s been an exciting couple of years for WA Ballet, with the move to the WA Ballet Centre in 2012 giving them the space they needed to expand to their current size of 40 dancers and almost as many support staff. With artistic director Aurelien Scannella at the helm, an upcoming international tour (after more than 20 years at home) and ballet subscriptions growing each year, things are shaping up well for ballet in WA.
West Australian Ballet presents
Beauty & the Beast
Director David Nixon OBE
Venue: His Majesty’s Theatre Perth WA
Dates: 13 – 28 May 2016
Tickets: $112 – $22