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David Nixon has created a new production of Beauty and the Beast for Northern Ballet The world premiere was in Leeds on 17th December and I was privileged to be there. I also saw the performance on 21st December.


Being honest I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; the company showed a production about 10 years ago (again by David Nixon) that I didn’t really care for. I am very happy to report that I was absolutely blown away by the new production.


The scenario is reasonably straight forward: An arrogant young prince gets on wrong side of bad tempered fairy and is turned into a beast. The fairy’s sister tells him that all will not be lost if he can find a girl to love him.


A rich merchant needs money to feed and clothe his spendthrift daughters and goes into the woods. The merchant falls foul of the beast by taking a rose for his youngest sweet-natured daughter. While the beast is tormenting him he remembers his daughters and the beast asks for one of them; the merchant agrees in order to escape.


Once home, the merchant explains to his daughters and plans to sacrifice himself. While the family sleep, youngest daughter Beauty decides to sacrifice herself and goes to the beast’s castle. She is initially repulsed by the beast but gradually sees some good in him and starts to bring light back into his life. She has a vision that her father is poorly and the beast agrees to let her go to him. The beast is in despair.


Beauty realises how much she misses the beast and returns to tell him that she loves him. He is transformed back to the Prince, but without his arrogant ways. They marry and live happily ever after.


The score is a selection of pieces by Debussy, Bizet, Poulenc and Glazunov and provides a good framework for the ballet. The costumes are utterly fabulous; they have been designed by David Nixon and Julie Anderson. The costumes, especially the girl’s evoke the 1950s. The beast looks part reptilian, part simian. I am very pleased that it is not a full mask and the facial expressions of the Beast are clear to see. Tim Mitchell has designed the lighting brilliantly. Although the setting is often “dark” the clever use of the lights mean that you can actually see what is going on! Duncan Hayler has designed a surreal set that again fits in cleverly with the action. I fell in love with Beauty’s bower in the Beast’s lair! My one reservation about the set comes from sitting at the side on the first night. There was a tree at the front of the set that hid quite a lot behind it from where I was sitting.


David Nixon has used two dancers for the roles of the Prince and Beast, which allows for some gorgeous and moving choreography where the Beast is remembering how he used to be, how he would like to become and what it would be like for Beauty to be in love with him. I was moved to tears by this section and also in a solo where the Beast realises he has forgotten how to be human. Beauty has come to his lair and the manservant lays a meal out. The Beast can only eat it like an animal, looked on in horror and repulsion by Beauty.


There is a lot of humour in amongst the darkness with the bailiffs section being particular fun. I love the way even the maids are reclaimed by them. The goblins who help the Beast’ manservant have a very stylised movement that is really amusing to watch.


In the scene where Beauty’s family are introduced to the audience we meet her spend-thrift sisters and bankrupt father. The sisters arrive home after a spending spree and more of their friends arrive. This section is almost a comedy of manners the feel of which reminded me of Ashton’ Façade. Of course the friends desert the family when the bailiffs arrive and dismantle the home.


The production ends with a wedding party which takes place in what looks like a large pipe organ. The set is suffused with a warm golden light and the corps has a very attractive celebration dance.


The opening night credits went to Ashley Dixon as the Beast, Martha Leebolt as Beauty and Kenneth Tindall as the Prince. Northern Ballet is a company of strong actor/dancers and these three wonderful artists infused the ballet with meaning. Ashley Dixon was triumphant as the Beast. Hiro Takahashi created a tour-de-force as the Beast’s manservant.


On Wednesday evening an equally superb cast of Ben Mitchell, Pippa Moore and Toby Batley brought a different dynamic to the piece that showed yet again why we balletomanes need repeated viewings.


This is a real entertainment for all the family and I can’t wait to see it again when it is on tour in the Spring.

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We went to the Thursday matinee and I was blown away by it. I love Northern Ballet and have long been a great supporter, but would be the first to admit that occasionally their new productions may not appeal to the mainstream. However I am sure that Beauty and the Beast will. The story is classic, the sets are out of this world and the costumes amazing. And of course the dancing is stunning. The matinee had a very mixed age audience and all ages seem to enjoy. I think this is a fantastic and hopefully enduring addition to the repertoire.


Just a shame that the company is 'reduced' to collecting 'small change' to pay dancers' salaries (re exit collections for 'Sponsor a Dancer'), but I am pleased that they are doing everything they can to maintain the company despite their funding cuts. Lets hope that they can ride the storm and that the Arts Funding situation will improve in the near future.

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  • 2 months later...



Northern Ballet are currently touring their new production of Beauty and the Beast. Having seen two of the opening performances, I was very glad to see another performance later in the tour.


The stage in Sheffield is really small so I was very glad that the trees that blocked my view in the forest scene in Leeds were not in use. Additionally I was sat further back in the stalls than usual and so was able to further admire the beautiful lighting that enhances the production so much.


My enjoyment from December was consolidated. This really is a super production. Ashley Dixon was the Beast with Martha Leebolt as his Beauty and Kenneth Tindall as the arrogant Prince. All three have grown into and enhanced their roles.


I don't know if it was my imagination but after Beauty has been at the Castle and seen some of the Beasts redeeming feature as their love grows, I felt that the way the Beast moved became "more human" as this section of the ballet progressed - I mean that he gradually had a more upright rather than simian stance. He reverted to Beast movements when he was distressed that Beauty has gone back to her family.


Again, I found the opening of the second Act, where Beast is imagining himself as he would be if he became human again and sees himself dancing with Beauty, very moving. I still love the wit of the bailiffs scene and the humour of the silly goblins. The Prince/Beast manservant role is, for me, absolutely pivotal to the action. He tries to (unsuccessfully) advise the Prince and looks after the Beast and then Beauty. Hiro Takahashi brings his wonderful stage presence to this role and its very stylised movements.


It was a great afternoon.


Beauty and the Beast is touring to most NB venues this year so I hope you all get an opportunity to see it.


PS - I know I have already mentioned it but the lighting for this production really is spectacularly gorgeous and truly enhances the performance. The front row in Hull is quite a way from the stage and I must say the lighting looks even better from further away. The lighting designer, Tim Mitchell, is, IMHO, a genius!


(edited to add the PS)

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Last night in Hull gave me my final opportunity this Spring to see Beauty and the Beast. It was Ashley Dixon's cast and it was a dazzling performance from start to finish!


As well as the three leading characters there are loads of other good roles for the dancers to get their teeth into. I particularly enjoyed Pippa Moore and Georgina May as Beauty's dippy sisters. Both have a delicate comedic touch and make the most of their opportunities. The bailiff scene continues to be hilarious, as do the goblins serving the meal to Beauty and Beast. I love their stylised movements (and judging by the chortles all around me, so did the rest of the audience).


Lori Gilchrist is gorgeous as the bad-tempered (not really wicked) fairy. Hannah Bateman, as her better-tempered fairy colleague, is elegance and kindness personified.


I notice on NB's Website that B&B is also touring in the Autumn. I'm already looking forward to seeing it again!



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