Friday, February 6, 2015

Multimedia Ballet: "Belle Redux: A Tale of Beauty & the Beast" to Premiere Valentine's Weekend

It would seem that 2015 is the year of Beauty and the Beast.

Ballet Austin, known for technical excellence and innovative productions, is about to launch their World Premiere of Belle Redux: A Tale of Beauty & the Beast in time for Valentine's Day weekend.

(Funny thing: when I first saw the image used in the little poster below I could have sworn the rose glowed in a pulse - that it was a gif. It was the pulsing of the rose in connection with the rose "multimedia" that caught my attention in the first place. But I can't find it now...)
"Once upon a time... Escape with Ballet Austin into the mysterious world of a beauty, a beast and a ballet, as Artistic Director Stephen Mills seduces you with a modern take on the timeless story of Beauty and the Beast. Commissioned by the global innovators at 3M, this sleek and sexy new production is an exciting evolution of the fairy tale you remember. 
Fall into a dark and intoxicating world of passion and intrigue, featuring Mills' classically innovative choreography and a haunting new score by renowned, Austin-based composer Graham Reynolds."
The production was commissioned by 3M Innovations with the intent that it will contribute to the evolution of the way in which this tale is told.
The sets for Belle Redux / A Tale of Beauty & the Beast draw inspiration from the film noir genre and Jean Cocteau's ground-breaking film La Belle et la Bête. Sleek and mysterious, Michael B. Raiford's designs give dancers the freedom to move about the space while lending a sense of gravity to Stephen Mills' innovative production.

If you're confused, bear with me - I shall explain, with the help of some quotes from the development notes on the production (words in bold and underlined, are my emphasis):
“Belle Redux / A Tale of Beauty & the Beast is unlike anything I’ve previously brought to the stage, and much of that has to do with the way this work was conceived,” Mills acknowledged. “Four years ago, Joaquin Delegado, who was then running 3M’s Austin businesses, approached me with an idea and a concern. He was worried that young people might grow up in a world where the art of innovation—the act of making something better, more interesting or more useful—would be lost or confused with advancements in technology, which is not the same thing. He wanted Ballet Austin to create an original dance work underscoring the complexity of innovation and how it differs from invention, or creating something from scratch.

It turns out the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale is an excellent case study for innovation with regard to storytelling forms - one which Ballet Austin are seeking to continue the tradition of, as well as develop the evolution of with regard to how the story is told (and therefore received/what impact it will have).

From the press notes:

Belle Redux / A Tale of Beauty & the Beast follows the well-known storyline of the French novel La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast) first published by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740 and then abridged and re-released by Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont six years later. Over two centuries, this tale of a beautiful young woman, who becomes entrapped and then enamored of a prince-turned-beast, has evolved through various art forms. 
French filmmaker Jean Cocteau advanced Beauty and the Beast storytelling through his groundbreaking movie La Belle et la Bête in 1946. Fifty years later, Cocteau’s film noir inspired American composer Philip Glass to create an operatic score that serves as an alternative soundtrack for the movie. In 1991, Walt Disney Pictures transformed the story into an Academy Award-winning animated motion picture, which Disney then adapted into a Broadway musical four years later. Over the years, Beauty and the Beast has constantly transformed and is now a case study on innovation.
In 2015, Stephen Mills again innovates the Beauty and the Beast story and its presentation by unveiling a 21st century, multi-media experience...

Having seen several stage versions of Beauty and the Beast, including ballet and contemporary dance (none of which were Disney, by the way), I'm reserving judgement on how well the innovation aspect of this production is perceived (though I have little doubt the production itself should get excellent reviews). Although I'm extremely fascinated by the idea of evolving storytelling and wish what they are hoping to do will indeed be as revolutionary as they set out to be, I'd be surprised if it made it's way into the public consciousness the ways the other forms of the story have. Why? Because apart from one fairly straight ballet, everything I've seen was incredibly innovative and, most used multimedia as well. (And most of them had adult leanings rather than catered to family sensibilities.)

What's notable about this production, though, are a few things: one, 3M's involvement (which means advertising and getting the word out), the professional quality of the production not being in question, the call back to Cocteau's visual style with regard to the multimedia elements (see the images in the post) and the costumes being done in the particular dark-fairy-tale-meets-high-couture signature style of world renowned (and greatly missed) fashion designer and legend Alexander McQueen.

Drawing inspiration from haute couture and the imaginative designs of the late Alexander McQueen, Ballet Austin Artistic Director/Choreographer Stephen Mills and Costumer Designer Michael B. Raiford mix edgy urban looks with fantastical elements for their 21st century take on Beauty & the Beast.

There is an interview with the dancer playing Belle, Michelle Thompson, and though it will mainly interest those who know and love ballet, she gives her insights into how this Belle might be a little different and how the Beast may be different, as well as how they mirror each other. You can find that video HERE.

For those wondering how much/if the story will change, here's a snapshot of the program notes (click to see full size):

If anyone gets a chance to see this, I'd be personally interested in your impressions so please share. And snag me a program, would you?

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