Friday, May 15, 2015

Beauty and the Beast (review)

© 2014 E. Y. Yanagi
Spoilers ahoy!

Quick note--this Inland Pacific Ballet's work stems from my favorite fairly tale as a child, Beauty and the Beast. This was of course decades before Disney made their popular version. At the start of the show--well, before, actually--an announcement this version lacked Gaston as well as any talking furniture or cutlery might have spared some disappointment. Almost half the audience when I attended were children--children totally entranced by what they saw.

That says a lot. One of the many wonderful yet infuriating things about the very young remains their brutal honesty. If they don't like what they see, they fidget. They talk amongst themselves. They look for ways to have fun.

But for this ballet they remained silent, attentive, honestly and wonderfully entertained.

I cannot claim any expertise in ballet (although I am a dancer and have taken ballet classes), so perhaps my comments deserve a grain of salt. I found the show quite charming, full of beautiful movements and music, with the story generally very clear.  My program explained many details about the plot that were nowhere in evidence on stage. But this seems fine. I always say if you need to explain a piece of dance before anyone sees it how good can the dance be? Yet the details in the program impacted the story not at all.

Act One begins in the Beast's garden, where he (Cameron Schwanz) laments his fate. A group of dancers I later learned were supposed to be roses (at the time I thought them fairies--but then fairies showed up later) comfort him until a stranger wanders into the garden, Beauty's Father (Jonathan Sharp). An agreement is reached after the Father dares to pick a white rose--that either Father spend the rest of his life imprisoned here, or he send one of his three daughters instead.

© 2014 E. Y. Yanagi
In the Village Square, we meet the three daughters--especially the hard-working and popular Beauty (Meilu Zhai), and her two jealous sisters (Miranda Rose and Ashley Mohadjer). When Father returns, he is acting strangely even as he gives the white rose to his favorite daughter. She eventually gets the story out of him, although he refuses under any circumstances to allow her to take his place. Once left alone, rose in hand, she immediately heads into the Enchanted Woods.

There she meets with a gaggle of young bewinged fairies who hide at first. But when they flee, an exhausted Beauty discovers wolves haunt these woods--until the Beast rescues her.

Act Two begins in the Beast's palace, where Beauty wakes and meets a small cluster of gnomes. Eventually the two meet and begin a kind of friendship that is also a wooing. Beast asks her to marry him, but she refuses. In time he allows her to visit her family, with the warning that if she does not return he will die. White rose in hand (this prop was used to great effect).

Back in her home, Beauty is greeted with great joy, especially by her Father who up until now has been depressed and slowly becoming sick. Only when Beauty gazes into the rose, seeing a vision of the slowly dying Beast, does she suddenly leave home.

She finds Beast in the garden, sick. When he asks her to marry him one more time, she agrees, and he magically transforms into a handsome prince. Smiling, the two are led off stage by the fairies.

© 2014 E. Y. Yanagi
Now, I really enjoyed the show up until this moment. Far more than I expected. The dancing and acting and through-line of it all delighted me. I also felt startled and amazed to see the music was not from a specific ballet for this story but woven together to form a new piece! I could feel myself smiling, taking in all the lovely details of the dancing as well as costumes and set and everything.

But to be honest I didn't see any reason for the last scene which was evidently everybody getting to move into the palace and wear gold and white then dance their little hearts' out. That felt 'off' but then maybe this is a rock-hard tradition of the form?

More importantly, it does nothing to prevent my recommending this lovely show.

Beauty and the Beast has two performances left at the Fox Performing Arts Center 3801 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, California 92501 the weekend of May 15-16, 2015.

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