The Atlanta Ballet’s second company, Atlanta Ballet 2, presented its enchanting children’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” at City Springs’ Byers Theatre in Sandy Springs the weekend of April 13-14. The young company, created by Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin, represents the highest level of training in the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education and provides performance opportunities and intense training for young pre-professional dancers. Choreographer Bruce Wells created the new one-hour ballet version of the classic fairytale for the company in 2017.
Wells’ charming version, told through dance and voice-over narration, is a mash-up of the classic fairytale by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and the beloved animated Disney film version. An arrogant young prince (Carraig New) mistreats an enchantress (Nadyne Bispo) disguised as a beggar woman, who turns him into a hideous beast until he can learn to love and be loved in return. When a merchant (Atlanta Centre for Dance Education faculty member Armando Luna) attempts to steal a rose from his castle, the beast demands that the merchant’s daughter Belle (Mya Kresnyak) come to live with him. Belle’s slowly falls in love with the beast in spite of his hideous appearance, and he is saved at the last moment, transforming back into a prince.
As with many story ballets, “Beauty and the Beast” requires viewers to switch gears between focusing on narrative to focusing on dance; the story and its concerns often come to a complete standstill so there can be a dance, which adult ballet viewers have likely grown accustomed to but which may be a difficult jump for some young viewers. The crowd of kids at City Springs, many of the girls dressed as Belle for the show, seemed very much along for the ride either way.
The young leads are enormously fun to watch. Adult ballet fans might think of it as something like taking a break from watching professional football to catch a college game: there’s often nothing second-tier or studenty about it, and indeed it can often be just as, if not more engaging, to watch than the big league. Spencer Wetherington made an especially compelling Gaston with a showy and impressive coupé-jeté en tournant that elicited gasps and applause from the audience.
Designer Ryan Sbarrata’s pretty and evocative set perfectly captures the magical, nostalgic mood of a classic fairy tale. Large garden arches on wheels are moved about the stage between scenes to create different architectural environments, a simple but surprisingly effective element of the staging. The production also utilizes dancers of all ages from the Centre for Dance Education, right down to some of the very smallest, roles, a device which could seemingly slow down a production and make it seem less professional, but the presence of beginning dancers is actually surprisingly well-integrated into the show alongside the more expert presence of the pre-professionals.
The ballet is set to the dramatic, romantic music of Léo Delibes, which is a lovely touch, though some young viewers may wonder why, with other aspects of the story familiar from the beloved Disney film, the film’s memorable musical numbers are, of course, absent here: there’s no Lumiere striking up a rousing version of “Be Our Guest.” Most young viewers at the Saturday afternoon matinee seemed well pleased, but some may have been puzzled by the production’s adherence to some aspects of the film (the lead characters, Belle, Beast and Gaston look much as they did in the film) and its variance from other key points (the Beast’s servants are not enchanted objects but remain human). The voice-over narration, though it relates a passable version of the tale, often breaks the enchanting, hallucinatory, silent-film-like spell of ballet, and the beast’s enchanted servants and court—so memorable from both the Disney film and from Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film—are sorely missed here: a long scene in which the beast’s ordinary human servants dance for Belle is pleasant enough to look at, but it seems to bring the story itself to a full stop.
Still, it’s impossible not to be fall under the spell of the entertaining version of the tale. Young dance or “Beauty and the Beast” fans, especially between the ages of around four to ten, will be totally delighted by the show, and with impressively athletic dance from young dancers, there’s enough here to keep parents occupied, too.
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