Add it to the list of excellent original story ballets coming out of The Milwaukee Ballet recently.
“Thank you, children, for dressing up and coming to the theater,” said Milwaukee Ballet artistic director Michael Pink during his curtain speech Friday. It’s no secret that Pink’s latest creation for the 48-year-old company he’s led for more than 15 years was made with these young audience members in mind.
Beauty and the Beast, a world premiere running through Sunday, April 15, at the Marcus Center, adds to Milwaukee Ballet’s arsenal of original, full-length story ballets, which includes Pink’s Peter Pan, Snow White (titled Mirror Mirror), and ALICE (in Wonderland). After a few seasons catering more to the company’s grown-up fans (Nutcracker, notwithstanding), Beauty and the Beast provides a perfect night out for the whole family.
Disney enthusiasts will recognize many of the elements which captivated audiences when the animated classic premiered in 1991, but Pink pulls in lesser-known aspects of the story gleaned from the original 1740 French fairy tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, and invents a few details of his own.
The central theme, as with most versions of the tale, is “don’t judge a book by its cover.” The Prince (Timothy O’Donnell), shuns an ogre who arrives at his doorstep while he’s hosting a glamorous ball. The wretched creature turns out to be a beautiful Enchantress (Lizzie Tripp), who casts a spell that turns him into the Beast (danced by Patrick Howell).
The bookish Belle (Annia Hidalgo), adored by her father Maurice (Davit Hovhannisyan), sacrifices herself to the Beast’s lair when Maurice angers him by stealing a rose after a generous, gluttonous meal. Beast’s castle is creatively animated by human hands and heads popping through tables, walls and rose bushes; there is no huge, cumbersome teapot costume here – Paul Daigle’s designs are streamlined, elegant, and wholly danceable. Storied characters like Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Pinocchio and Prince Charming appear to comfort Belle during her captivity, which provide fodder for divertissements in an otherwise plot-driven ballet.
It is these additions, as well as a pair of silly sisters (danced by Marize Fumero and Lahna Vanderbush) that separate this Beauty from the others. Fumero and Vanderbush with Parker Brasser-Vos and Randy Crespo as two bumbling, gauche suitors provide the comic relief of the evening.
But what makes this ballet truly special is its magical designs and an incredibly original score by composer Philip Feeny. With no detail spared, the lavish visual world created by Todd Edward Ivins (scenic design) and David Grill (lighting) perfectly captures a balance between fantasy and the real world. Feeny’s score uses leitmotif and rich instrumentation – including glockenspiel, harp, tuba and bass clarinet – to bring Pink’s reliably gorgeous choreography to life.
Indeed, Feeny and Pink may be the Tchaikovsky and Petipa of the twenty-first century. Their ballets are infused with timelessness, yet they inject classical ballet’s conventions with currency and life.
It should be said that Beauty and the Beast is not without flaws. The second act drags, consumed by long, ambiguous stretches of Belle and Beast’s courtship. The rest is so rich that I was led to think perhaps Pink simply ran out of time. But a well-executed transformation as the Prince is released from his curse, with the orchestra at full volume and a ravishing, full-stage pas de deux at the end, which has Hidalgo and O’Donnell carving the stage – turns and lifts that trace the petals of a resplendent rose projected behind them – well, that was worth the wait.
Go See It: Beauty and the Beast presented by The Milwaukee Ballet; April 12-15, 2018; Marcus Center for the Performing Arts