Saturday, February 14, 2015

Review: Ballet Austin's "Belle Redux: A Tale of Beauty & the Beast"

Belle Redux: A Tale of Beauty & the Beast
Ballet Austin
Review by Tahlia Merrill (Timeless Tales Magazine)

What could be a more appropriate way to spend Valentine's weekend than attending a fairy tale themed ballet? Belle Redux is only playing in Austin for three days and I had the privilege of enjoying opening night. 

This is no Swan Lake, though. With narry a tutu or pointe shoe in sight, Belle Redux firmly establishes itself as a contemporary interpretation of Beauty and the Beast. The show, advertised as "multimedia", incorporates digital screens into the set to enhance the experience. Sometimes the screens clarify the location, such as a projected chandelier silhouette that lets the audience know they are viewing the Beast's mansion. Other times, they assist the plot, such as the pulsing red bar that appears on stage when the Beast (portrayed by Ed Carr) is first cursed (his Beast form is represented by a red stripe that runs from head to navel). The single set piece--a foil covered structure--is transformed from nondescript backdrop to ominous castle by shifting the lighting. 

While the style is contemporary, that does not mean Redux is a modernization. The set and costumes are designed as abstract symbols rather than fitting any specific time period. The music too blends the clear tones of classical strings with the gritty reverb of electric guitar. 

Because the show sticks to a fairly monochromatic color scheme, I found myself drawing connections between the characters' costumes and their good/evil alignment. It seemed simple at first: Belle's sisters dress in black leotards to show that they are wicked. Belle (danced by Michelle Thompson) wears a fluttery green dress to show her fresh innocence. The father wears black and white plaid to show that his loyalties are divided--while he loves Belle, he is still controlled by his evil daughters. Since The Rose represents the curse, the ballerina playing The Rose is dressed in a spiky black tutu and a crown of red roses. The Beast wears black leather pants with a white waistband, so that means he's evil, but there's still a little good in him. 

It's not always that simple, of course. In the first scene, both good and evil are portrayed wearing white, as is the pre-beast prince. Here's the description of the prologue from the program:

"In a beautiful place, a young boy lives. He is surrounded by roses and a life filled with things that are good. As he grows, the goodness surrounding him is subsumed by evil. As the boy matures, he resists the evil, but it cruelly marks him."

Notice that, in this version, the Beast doesn't start out as a haughty prince who rejects an ugly woman. This isn't a story about the Beast's redemption, it's about Belle's ability to see his true self. In the end, Belle finds herself in a room full of mirrors where she encounters versions of her family members, now carrying the same red mark as the Beast. Eventually, she sees a reflection of herself with the same red mark. It is only then that she sees both the Beast and the Prince at the same time. 
Now, because dance is such an abstract medium, it can be tough to pull out definitive messages. But my interpretation of the action is that when when Belle finally kisses the Prince, it shows that she has learned to love the inner good of the Beast. Everyone has imperfections, including Belle, but only the Beast has them displayed for everyone to see. 
Most surprisingly, instead of her kiss permanently bringing back the handsome Prince, the final scene is a romantic dance between Belle and the Beast--still bearing his red mark. In Redux, love isn't about changing a person, but loving them, scars and all. 
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Tahlia Merrill is Editor of Timeless Tales Magazine, and an official partner of Once Upon A Blog.

Production: Belle Redux: A Tale of Beauty & the Beast by Ballet Austin - A 3M Innovation Commission
Performance Date: February 13th, 2015
Cast: Michelle Thompson dances Belle and Ed Carr portrays the Beast.
Photos by: Tony Spielberg (courtesy of Ballet Austin)
Once upon a time... A forbidden garden, a mysterious castle...  A beauty. A beast. A ballet. Inspired by the 1946 Jean Cocteau film and featuring an original score by Graham Reynolds. Commissioned by 3M.  FEBRUARY 13-15 at The Long Center.
More information can be found about Ballet Austin's commissioned production by 3M Innovation at the website HERE, while showings and tickets information can be found HERE (Sunday tickets are still available!).

You can see our previous post on Belle Redux and the unique approach to the production and retelling of the fairy tale, including costume and set design, HERE.

Disclosure: Complimentary tickets were provided in exchange for an honest review.

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