Ballet Theatre UK: Beauty and the Beast

Spa Centre, Leamington Spa
October 27, 2022

Between its first date on October 9 and April next year, Ballet Theatre UK’s tour of Beauty and the Beast takes in over 80 towns and cities across England, mostly visiting venues for just one evening. They may be a sort of an ‘under the radar’ company in many ways, but they have done an excellent job for many years, taking classical dance to the many towns and cities that their more illustrious cousins do not reach. It’s good to see them back on the road.

The story is told clearly and concisely. Performed to the highly romantic music of Antonín Dvořák, most notably from his Slavonic Dances, artistic director Christopher Moore’s ballet is attractive: easy on the eye and on the ear.

As always with Ballet Theatre UK, the costumes are gorgeous. The set is minimalist, not much more than a chair, a couple of big wheeled gates and a few smaller decorative screens, and a pair of window seats that turn round as bookcases. Three backdrops also do sterling work, with the bleak late autumn wooded landscape, the ground covered with leaves, outside the Beast’s castle being especially atmospheric. But that’s all it needs. The combination is extremely effective and the transitions smooth as the action switches between locations.

Miriam Konnerth and Ewan Hambelton in Beauty and the Beast
Photo Daniel Hope/Ballet Theatre UK

Miriam Konnerth is a sweet-natured Beauty. Gentle and caring, she dances lyrically but with a gently restrained freedom. Wonderfully expressive, she has a beautiful fluidity of movement and a gorgeous line.

At home, Belle, her father, and her sisters and their husbands generally get along happily, even though the two older siblings (Yuko Ojima and Sophie Piper) leave us in no doubt that they have a rather materialistic outlook on life. Unpleasant caricatures or people to be ridiculed, they most definitely are not.

The sisters’ love for the finer things does literally come back to burn them, however. Having put on necklaces conjured up by the Beast and delivered by Beauty, they immediately burn, one of several ideas that Moore borrows from cinema.

As the Beast, Ewan Hambelton shows little sense of his vain and selfish former self. Instead, we see a man who is, deep-down, a rather sensitive soul, and whose occasional bursts of anger are borne more out of despair and frustration at his inability to escape the punishment imposed by the Enchantress (a spiky Miharu Sugahara, resplendent in black and orange) as anything else. His set to with Beauty’s father (Paul Menue) when he is caught picking a rose is full on, though,

Paul Meneu as Beauty’s father and Wolves
outside the gates of the Beast’s castle
Photo Daniel Hope/Ballet Theatre UK

The big pas de deux is gently romantic and feels completely unforced, the choreography emphasising that these are two real people with real feelings rather than focusing in showy steps. It’s just a shame it’s not longer.

If there’s a ‘but’, it’s that, as elegant as the supporting ensemble dances are, they do feel a little one-paced. But the corps do a great job as the statues who guard the castle, the scariest looking characters in the ballet, and a nod to the original story in which the people in the cursed castle were frozen as statues after the Prince was transformed so that no one could leave and tell of the secret. Their best moment is as the wolves who attack Beauty’s father when he first comes across the Beast’s castle, however.

The Leamington audience lapped it up, giving the dancers a great ovation at the end. Particularly pleasing was seeing just how many were attending as families. Well done, Ballet Theatre UK.

Beauty and the Beast by Ballet Theatre UK continues on tour. Click here for dates, venues and booking links.