Growing up in Cuba, ballerina Annia Hidalgo saw the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast, but never thought she’d play the bookish princess Belle on stage. “That’s kind of a fairy tale, too,” she says. Milwaukee Ballet’s take on the classic story runs May 19-22 at the Marcus Center, capping the company’s first full season back in front of live audiences.
Hidalgo joined Milwaukee Ballet in 2011 after dancing with the Cuban National Ballet and, briefly, the Los Angeles Ballet. Of all the roles she’s danced in her decade with the company, Belle is one of her favorites.
“For me, the best part is when she interacts with everyone in the town,” Hidalgo says, humming the opening lines of the film (“There goes the baker with his tray like always…”).
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Michael Pink’s choreography starts the ballet in a similar way to the movie as Belle bumps into townspeople with her nose stuck in a book. In place of Alan Menken’s merry tune is a gorgeous, cinematic score by Philip Feeney, a frequent collaborator on Pink’s long catalog of full-length story ballets.
“We work very closely on our characters to tell the story with movement,” Hidalgo says. “You have to have an internal dialogue with yourself: ‘What is that person telling you? Why are you moving your arm right now? Why are you twirling or doing a pirouette right now?’ Everything has a why.”
Hidalgo first played Belle when the ballet was created in 2018. Then, she partnered with now-retired dancers Patrick Howell and Timothy O’Donnell as Beast and the Prince, who both dance several long, intricate pas de deux with Belle.
As she’s progressed through the ranks, Hidalgo says she enjoys being a role model for the younger dancers. “I have worked with so many amazing dancers, partners, administrators – the whole organization,” she says. “When each new generation arrives, I want to challenge myself to be better because I want them to know that it doesn’t matter if you’re a principal dancer. You always try to be better.”