Finally, a ballet with such a strong narrative flow that you don’t need to read the programme for an idea of who the random coterie of on-stage performers are. In the vernacular of ageing yellow billionaire Charles Montgomery Burns – Huzzah!
Yes, if you’re not familiar with Beauty and the Beast, you’ll still need some guidance but even for those people whose knowledge of the story extends only to the Disney musical, it’s no stretch to identify the characters on stage.
At the heart of this production is the singular, driving vision of choreographer, director and costume designer David Nixon.
Featuring music compiled from a number of different and very familiar classical sources, it’s hard to believe that this is a brand new show created by Nixon for Northern Ballet.
Currently incumbent as the company’s artistic director, Nixon has been given free reign to regale audiences with his version of the French fairytale and in doing so has created an instant classic. Much of the appeal of this production is its appreciation of visual form and delivery of plot. The curtain goes down only during the interval and at the finale, meaning that the effortlessly shifting scenes retain dramatic momentum and that themes and ideas bleed into each other. A white rose becomes a bed, a car becomes a home and wall hangings become packing crates.
The dancers are clad in costumes that accentuate form and narrative, fairy La Fée Luminaire floats about the stage in much the same way that one might imagine that Rolls Royce’s hood ornament the Spirit of Ecstasy to do if she were real, the Beast is a roving mix of tortured Wolverine and giddy Mr Tumnus. Beauty, a beguilingly nimble Pippa Moore, retains her character’s modest, simple styling even when clad in finery. Nixon is at his best exploring the vanity and foolishness of his characters, Prince Orian and Beauty’s sisters are ripe for ridicule and their vapid entourages provides much comic relief.
Yet for all the sumptuous set changes and breadth of vision, the action is tightly managed. Nixon doesn’t indulge in art for art’s sake. Each act serves to further the story rather than dwell on physical artistry. An ideal starting place for ballet beginners.