alTHOUGH faithful to the original traditional fairytale, Northern Ballet’s version of Beauty and the Beast offers a take on the excesses of modern consumerism.
Beauty and her family are stripped of their belongings by debt collectors and forced to live in the forest, while the Prince is cursed to live as the Beast as punishment for his vanity and shallow materialism.
Northern Ballet artistic director David Nixon says he did not set out with that intention when he began his adaptation.
He often designs the costumes for his productions but unusually with this production the costumes were his starting point.
“The setting and the period always affect the way I choreograph and the way the characters work and move but this was different in that I was not taking a period with a definite aesthetic,” he says.
It was the world of haute couture that attracted him. He borrowed from the whole spectrum of high fashion which brought a timeless quality with retro Fifties costumes alongside Armani suits “that could be from 2030”.
This was what led him to our contemporary world, and especially the emptiness of today’s celebrity culture.
“The Prince is only interested in himself and his friends are only interested in him,” says the Canadian-born choreographer.
“He’s an empty modern day icon.”
As a punishment for his arrogance, the Prince is cursed to live alone in his castle until the spell is broken by the sacrifice of true love.
In Beauty’s presence the Beast remembers the joy he once had and his willingness to sacrifice his life for her allows his transformation back to a handsome prince.
Critics have remarked on how the lavish spectacle of Beauty and the Beast seems in defiance of these financially hard times which has seen Northern Ballet’s funding reduced, along with most other arts organisations.
Nixon admits it’s a statement of sorts. “It’s a new production and we did it glitzily with lots of silver and gold to make it look a million pounds which we don’t have but that’s what we still aim for,” he says.
It is also the second production Nixon has created within a year.
“We lucked out,” he suggests. “After years of doing two or three years of reviving things and rewriting old work, we received a sustained grant which enabled us to do Cleopatra last year and that supported doing another work for Christmas.
“You have to jump at the chance. We wanted a family piece in the repertoire and I thought Beauty and the Beast rewritten could do that.
“I wanted to create something which would be equally popular with both children and adults alike. Beauty and the Beast is a classic fairytale of good versus evil, exploring the concept of beauty on the inside and the outside.
“The story is difficult to put into dance and not easy to do as a full-length ballet,” he points out. “There are few characters in it and you have to make it larger than life and find some angle to it. It’s a short story really – she goes to the castle and later she comes out and he changes.”
Presumably that’s why Disney introduced dancing candlesticks and teapots in their version of Beauty and the Beast which we will surely not be getting from Northern Ballet.
“In our culture nowadays Disney comes along and establishes their own tradition,” he says. “If you tried to copy anything from that they would be on to you. This is not an adaptation of the Disney version of the story – it is based on the original tale and will embrace the darker elements of the tale as well as the lighter moments.”
Beauty and the Beast is at the Lyceum Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday.