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Beauty and the Beast notes
David Bintley on Beauty and the Beast
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 ballet, 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 for a fourth season and touring major theatres around the UK for the second time, audiences have obviously enjoyed the sight of this Beast.
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