Photos and captions courtesy of City Ballet
The story of “Beauty And The Beast” is rooted four centuries ago, becoming widely read when it was written by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont in France. The original ballet, in three acts with a prologue by choreographer Andrea C. Hill of City Ballet of Wilmington, had its premiere in the Port City in 2013. It was the last Saturday and Sunday of March when the ballet was staged at the State-of-the-Art Wilson Center Main Stage at Cape Fear Community College.
The audience’s response was more than enthusiastic, they were really delighted. The City Ballet students had the best training opportunity, and every act was done with flare, and stunning opulence. The choreography, the costumes, and the striking set design, vividly illustrated the storytelling. The spoiled Prince (Justin Russell) was transformed into a horrible beast by the enchantress (Merlee Hill) as punishment for his disrespecting behavior towards what appeared to be a poor old street woman. Only the true love of Belle (Devon Hamerski on Saturday, and Elizabeth Manners on Sunday,) was able to break the spell.
The lighting effects that were most important happened with the use of a black scrim. The see-through curtain created a visible palace (a stained glass window backdrop), which could be seen by the audience through the scrim. Spectators were able to visualize clearly the corridor in the palace where the most heart wrenching scene occurred, the beast dying. Seconds later, Belle was running through the corridor on her way to be with him. This use of the scrim also created a shrouded look to the cursed palace – that was only lifted away by the Enchantress at the end of the story. Resources like fog and haze in some of the scenes created even more interest among the audience.
Were they acting or just dancing? This ballet does revolve around the dancer’s acting abilities. In my opinion, acting is important in storytelling for ballet, as it is the only way to communicate the story is through the acting, music, and choreography. Dancers have great acting ability, especially when the story is communicated without any words – only acting and movement. When The Rose (Matalin Bloomfield) was dying in the arms of the Beast, all hearts were shrinking. When The Rose grew weaker, waiting for the spell on the castle to be broken, the movements of the two dancers had an impressive cadence. The public could feel the anxiety and pain of both of them: her weakness while dying, and his desperation.
And the end, the white scarves circling around the dead beast, was for many a symbol of resurrection. The beauty of the moment and its spiritual nature, made this ballet rich in both, theological messages and spiritual symbolism. The transformative power of universal love was present, as in every part of the ballet plays produced by Hill, “I had visualized it but I only realized the spiritual nature when some young Catholic adult friends noticed the symbolism in 2013. Alex, my husband, also had an in depth discussion with one of our Priest friends that attended our 2013 Beauty and the Beast. Apparently, the ballet is rich in both theological messages and spiritual symbolism. I had not realized this during the choreographic process. I am thankful that all of my ballets have great spiritual guidance, and Beauty and the Beast would not have been the same without that guiding hand,” – she tells us smiling.
It wasn’t an orchestra playing live at Beauty And The Beast, but the audio recording of the pieces of Alexander Desplat, Patrick Doyle, Danny Elfman, and Giuseppe Verdi, fullfilled the expectations. There is no doubt that this tale of promise, friendship, and love, would not be complete without a good sound system, which is not a problem in the digital age.
The students at City Ballet grew one more time as a family. Ballet friendships are special and irreplaceable. It is priceless to see how they support each other. At the end, it was like all of them were been granted a second wish. The chance to express themselves on stage, inventive choreography, and fanciful costumes, all of them became more confident. All the students participated, even the 3 and half year old, like my little granddaughter Gabriella Sophia Montero! I can assure you that this group has been exquisitely trained, and that is why regional audiences have come to expect more and more from City Ballet.