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Beauty and the Beast: Milton Keynes Theatre
SENSATIONAL: Ashley Dixon as the Beast with Martha Leebolt as Beauty in David Nixon’s new ballet Picture: Bill Cooper
This is the latest in David Nixon’s series of full-length story ballets, and both in atmosphere and in spirit it falls into two halves. Nixon has updated the story to the 20th century. His costumes are a hybrid of 1950s debutantes’ dresses for the girls and Dolce & Gabbana-esque black macho for the men.
Prince Orian is a despicable, though handsome, egotist. He is so vain that he lives in a hall of mirrors. He scornfully rejects the hunched figure that comes begging, only to see her transformed into a beautiful fairy, who curses him to be turned into a horrific beast — a spell that can only be broken if he can learn to love and be loved in return.
Meanwhile, at home with his favourite daughter and her two silly sisters, Beauty’s father finds that he has been bankrupted by their endless shopping. In a true coup-de-theatre, a huge removal van backs on to the stage, and three bully boys take everything away — including most of the sisters’ clothes! The family have to leave, and take refuge in an abandoned tour-bus, and it’s while they are living here that the father — a touching Darren Goldsmith — meets the Beast, and makes the promise of sending one of his daughters to live with him. All this is mainly jokey and enjoyable, but it doesn’t really touch the heights. What follows certainly does.
Ashley Dixon’s portrayal of the Beast is nothing short of sensational. I should explain that the Prince is played, very well, by another dancer — Kenneth Tindall. David Nixon’s crouching, twisting choreography, punctuated by powerful, convoluted jumps, shows us clearly the agonies the Beast is suffering. It also displays Ashley Dixon’s virtuosity as a dancer.
Martha Leebolt is Beauty, and her development from fear to affection, as she perceives the beauty beneath the daunting exterior, and also his vulnerability and pain, is subtly done. She is a lovely dancer. Much of the dance here is set to the suitably Gothic tones of Poulenc’s organ concerto, which creates an atmosphere of doom-laden angst.
There are beautiful duets for the two main characters here, and a very clever trio, when the dream embodiment of the Prince joins them. This is choreographer David Nixon at his very best. Beauty is charmed by this handsome figure, while the Beast dances an anguished obbligato around them. However, Beauty has come to love him, and tells him so, breaking the spell. Now he is a prince again, but his character is transformed, and we end with a joyous wedding celebration. Beauty and the Beast continues until Saturday at Milton Keynes and is at Aylesbury Waterside from November 13 to 17.