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Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Beauty and the Beast arrives at the Lowry, Salford this week! Here’s a detailed look at the titular terror from top to toe!
1. Face: The Beast’s mask is made of a special foam and fits the dancer like a second skin. Each dancer performing the role has an individual mask created, moulded specifically to the contours of their face.
2. Eyes: For the first ever performances of the ballet in 2003, many of the costumes were being created at the same time as the first photographic artwork was being taken. For the posters, an image was obviously needed of someone in the Beast’s mask, only recently completed. Rather than call one of the dancers out of rehearsals for the ballet, however, Director David Bintley stepped into the role himself, and it is his own eyes you may have seen peering out at you through the Beast’s face!
3. Muscles: In creating the look of the costume, designer Philip Prowse took elements from bears, wolves and other creatures. Says David: ‘The Beast is not specifically this kind of animal or that kind of animal, but another thing to a human being, and that’s what I think is Belle’s visual repulsion; he represents a threat to her humanity.’
4. Hide: The ‘skin’ of the Beast’s costume is made from a velour-like material, which restricts the dancers’ movements as little as possible, and yet still moves seamlessly like the hide of a real animal. Despite being one of the most dramatic characters in the Birmingham Royal Ballet repertory, the costume is one of the quickest to get into during preparations for each performance, as the all-in-one mask nicely eliminates the need for lengthy wardrobe sessions in Hair and Make-Up!
5. Waist: When the ballet made its debut in 2003, the Beast’s costume was so hot on the inside that the dancer performing the role lost half a stone on the opening night! Slight changes have been made since, however, meaning the cast will still have to hit the gym to stay in shape!
6. Feet: At the end of the story, the Beast is eventually transformed back into the prince, calling for a quick change on the part of the dancer. In the short space of time, there isn’t enough time to secure ballet pumps once the Beast’s boots have been removed, and they would be too large to wear underneath, so the dancer is left barefoot for the final pas de deux.
7. Name: David says he was intrigued by idea of calling people ‘beastly’ whenever they display characteristics such as pride, and malice; traits actually fairly unique to humans, rather than the animal kingdom. ‘People are more ‘beastly’ than animals are,’ he says. ‘We have a funny way of viewing things; if you call someone ‘beastly’ it’s not meant as a compliment, but to be beastly means to be like a beast, an animal. That is why the prince is turned into a beast, because he is arrogant, cruel, and as a human would say…beastly.’
Birmingham Royal Ballet dances Beauty and the Beast from Tuesday, 24 January to Saturday, 28 January 2012 at the Lowry, Salford.
With Beauty and the Beast touring to the Lowry, Salford in January 2012, following a week of performances at Birmingham Hippodrome, we’ve uncovered this interview with Choreographer David Bintley, originally published during the piece’s second season of performances in 2005.
When interviewed previously about Beauty and the Beast, creator of the piece and Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, David Bintley, has spoken a great deal about the story’s theme of how we see animals. ‘We have a funny way of viewing things,’ he says. While we pride ourselves on being a nation of animal lovers, David explained at the time of the ballet’s premiere, we use the term ‘beastly’ to describe someone who behaves with cruelty or arrogance – traits which are fairly unique to humans.
While it is a concept which he obviously enjoyed examining in the ballet, it is not what originally drew him to the work. ‘A good subject for a ballet has got to have both strong characters and strong events,’ he says. ‘The events are what keep things motoring along, and shape the characters, but you couldn’t do a ballet based purely on an event. Take the American civil war – that’s one hell of an event, but you couldn’t put that in a ballet!’
In Beauty and the Beast, the young girl Belle is sent to live with the terrifying Beast in penance for her father’s theft of a rose from the animal’s garden. Dragged from her home and denied access to her family, she is forced to grow up sharply, and confront the terrifying Beast on her own. Over time, she comes to see past his unfamiliar appearance, and is able to love him for the person he is underneath. By the end of the ballet she is a drastically different character from the one she was at the beginning.
Likewise, the Beast begins life as a handsome prince, but one who exhibits the cruelty and arrogance that David highlights as being particularly human faults. Transformed magically into a hideous beast as punishment for his sins, he must alter his character if he is to earn the true love that will break the spell.
The strength and contrast of these character arcs was attractive to David. ‘That’s very much what I look for in a subject for narrative dance,’ he says, ‘because I believe I have to have that outline, that choreographic feeling for the characters, the story and the period.’
Every element must be able to be conveyed in dance, otherwise the piece won’t work. And most importantly, the characters, like Belle and the Beast, must be figures that can be expressed through choreography.
‘Lots of people think that if you just take another great classic novel, it’ll work as a ballet,’ says David, ‘but no, it won’t necessarily. There are so many great stories out there and you could say “why don’t you do that one?” It’s because I have no feeling for it, no empathy. I don’t feel it, and those characters don’t say “movement”.’
Beauty and the Beast however, has proved a rich topic for a narrative work, with the ballet being one of David’s most successful pieces. ‘I knew that Beauty and the Beast would sell because it’s a known title and known titles always sell,’ he says, ‘but that’s not why I made it. I made the ballet because I was absolutely obsessed by it, and had been for 30 years.’
That people are likely to come and see a ballet based upon a familiar story does not guarantee its longevity, however. But with the ballet returning to tour major theatres around the UK, audiences have obviously enjoyed the sight of this Beast.
Birmingham Royal Ballet will perform David Bintley’s production of Beauty and the Beast at the Lowry, Salford, 24 – 28 January 2012.
A cruel Prince, cursed to spend the rest of his life living in a fantastical castle with the animals he callously hunted, finds salvation in the heart of a beautiful girl. Caught stealing a single rose, Belle’s desperate father exchanges his life for his youngest daughter’s freedom. In his distant castle the Beast, stripped of his handsome features and his very humanity, must win her heart, or spend the rest of his life in bitter solitude.
The ballet was last performed at the venue in January 2004. These will be the only UK tour dates for the production in the 2011-12 season.
You can watch an excerpt from the ballet here: