When? Wednesday 24th October 2012
Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
John Hull, Giuliano Contadini, Mariana Rodrigues, Antoinette Brooks-Daw, Isabella Gasparini, Graham Kotowich, Mark Dennis, Jessica Morgan, Dreda Blow, Hironao Takahashi, Darren Goldsmith, Olivia Holland, Shanti Mouget, Michela Paolacci, Hannah Bateman, Ayana Kanda, Julie Charlet, Luisa Rocco, Sebastian Loe, Matthew Topliss, Matthew Broadbent, Ashley Dixon, Joseph Taylor, Kevin Poeung, Isaac Lee-Baker, Nicola Gervasi, Jessica Cohen, Rachael Gillespie, Thomas Aragones, Jeremy Curnier, Josh Barwick

David Nixon’s Beauty and the Beast, returning to Yorkshire after its successful world premiere in Leeds last December, is modern ballet at its brilliant best. Almost Disney-meets-The Phantom of the Opera, Nixon’s charming and visually appealing production ticks all the boxes for a great night at the theatre; a moving and well-conveyed narrative is superbly brought to life by the terrific company – with the principle dancers particularly shining – set against the diverse and emotive backdrop of Duncan Hayler’s imaginative sets, which are expertly lit by top lighting designer Tim Mitchell (whose work I had most recently admired in Dirty Dancing).

Nixon, who directs and choreographs, is rightly proud of this production, which blends melodrama and a wide variety of contemporary ballet styles to stunning effect. At times, it is rather like watching a classic silent movie; the theme of the piece carries wonderfully with the entrancing score. John Longstaff’s arrangements integrate the music with the drama seamlessly; the profoundly gothic tone in the second act opening and finale (Saint-SaĆ«ns: Symphony No. 3 – ‘organ’) surely could not have sounded better than it did on the night, under the baton of John Pryce-Jones and his talented orchestra.

The constantly shifting set pieces keep a real feeling of danger to the piece, in spite of the accessible family-friendly nature of the ballet; the beautiful backdrops are gorgeously lit and largely this is all the dancers need as a frame. Set pieces are flown in and out and – one faux-pas aside involving a to-scale lorry being reversed onto the stage – are very effective and in keeping with the tone of the piece.

Beauty and the Beast is a brilliant family show in the truest sense; there is something for the whole family to enjoy. The theatrics kept the immaculately behaved younger members of the audience rapt, while others sat in awe of the quality of the footwork – needless to say the muso’s were in for a treat too. Hironao Takahashi gives a wonderfully theatrical turn as The Beast; his dancing, whilst not world-beating from a technical viewpoint, was passionate and very physical and as he scales the second rigging of his castle and sneers from his lofty perch, he felt every bit the character I wanted him to be. Michela Paolacci is lovely as Beauty and is reminiscent of the likes of Mary Philbin, such was her tendency to the theatrical. Technically, her dancing was also a joy to watch and Paolacci remains one of the top talents associated with Northern Ballet, as she approaches her tenth year with the company. There are also standout performances from the conceited young Prince Orion, John Hull, and some fine comic relief throughout from the two sisters, amusingly played by Hannah Bateman and Ayana Kanda.

I absolutely adored this production, which I found to be of the highest quality. Nixon stops inches short of musical theatre throughout, making it hard to accept as a pure ballet; I personally enjoyed it as a piece of melodramatic theatre, with some terrific ballet dancing thrown in for good measure. For many who would never have dreamed of seeing a classic ballet, visiting this production will hopefully be the catalyst for a lifelong love affair with dance – and that can only be a good thing for the art and the industry in general.

Northern Ballet’s Beauty and the Beast plays at the Bradford Alhambra until Saturday 27th October 2012

- Harry Zing


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