BWW Review: World Premier of Michael Pink's BEAUTY & THE BEAST Enchants at the Milwaukee Ballet

BWW Review: World Premier of Michael Pink's BEAUTY & THE BEAST Enchants at the Milwaukee Ballet

Roses wave hello, storybook pages spring to life, the townsfolk are actually nice, and the troupe of orphan children are a little creepy. This isn't Disney's Beauty & the Beast. There are no singing teapots or yellow ballgowns to be found.

Instead, Michael Pink gives us a world premier Milwaukee ballet inspired by the 1796 adaptation by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Per the show notes: "Our Belle is the hero of her own story; a voracious reader, quick-witted, and the maker of her own destiny."

Though this hardly strays from the Belle many of us know and love, there are some unexpected changes to the story that might leave you scratching your head if you don't read the synopsis before the curtain rises (always read the synopsis!). The powerful enchantress (the spellbinding Lizzie Tripp)is backed by a small army of orphans clad in white - a rather ghostly sight, brought to life by students from the Milwaukee Ballet School.

When we meet Belle (the lovely Nicole Teague-Howell*), the townsfolk adore her. She's reading Aladdin and his Magic Flying Carpet aloud, and all are swept up in the tale. Belle's pair of fussy, frivolous sisters (Marize Fumero and Lahna Vanderbush) offer an amusing foil for our heroine. They'd rather fawn over the latest fashions and be courted by a couple of peacocking, candy-colored dandies (Parker Brasser-Vos and Randy Crespo) than read a book.

Belle's loving father, Maurice (Patrick Howell*), is en route to the city when he gets lost in the forest and stumbles upon the Beast's castle. The enchantment on display is sheer magic: Statues come alive and whirl about the stage (Janel Meindersee and Josiah Cook), the banquet table has a mind of its own, and out in the garden, the hedges bloom with smiling roses that wave merrily. They warn Belle's father not to pluck one of the buds, for fear of the Beast. You might guess what happens next.

The Beast (the vigorous Isaac Sharratt*) bears down upon Maurice, his crimson cape commanding the stage and making the monster appear larger than life. This is just one of the many stunning and effective bits of costumed wizardry by designer Paul Daigle.

Color plays a definite part in the narrative, with townsfolk dressed in muted, neutral tones. Rich colors are reserved for the castle, as Belle dons her provincial blue throughout most of the ballet. When she shows up in the final scene, wearing crimson to match the Beast's own cape, it's clear which world she's chosen. While there are surely a slew of other subtleties to praise in the costuming, sometimes it's just as simple as this: The costumes are pretty. The dancers' skirts twirl beautifully. The colors pop. It's all-around gorgeous to behold.

In this Beauty & the Beast, the biggest departure from Disney's "tale as old as time" is an interlude at the end of Act One and beginning of Act Two, where characters step from the pages of Belle's storybook. There's Rapunzel (Alana Griffith*), the Three Little Pigs (Carly Bartel, Lindsay Crivello & Madeline Rhode*), and Little Red Riding Hood (Zoe Maxwell*), among others.

These particular characters seem handpicked to echo Belle's own plight: A princess held captive, pigs terrified of a huffing-puffing beast, and a provincial girl who, in this production, tames the Big Bad Wolf by showing some kindness. Michael Pink wanted his Beauty & the Beast to be thought-provoking, and to that I say - success!

Naturally, this glorious achievement comes down to movement and music. The original score by Philip Feeney is strong: equal parts ominous and mysterious, sweeping and joyful. Set to these storied notes, Michael Pink's choreography dazzles the eye and moves the spirit. The build up to Belle and the Beast finally dancing together is thick with tension, her movements hands-off and palpably apprehensive before welcoming this creature into her personal space. It's mesmerizing to watch the progression, from warming up to each other to playful friendship and flirtation.

The company as a whole danced exquisitely on Thursday night - a particular favorite being scenes that featured the Milwaukee Ballet School. These young performers played more than just spine-chilling orphans and jolly rosebuds - they also cheerily followed the Pied Piper out of Belle's storybook to much delight. Though one might crave more such delight - a whirl of color and a stage full of spinning ballerinas - as a grand finale, Michael Pink gives us something even better. The final moments capture the heart of this fairytale: Belle and her prince, moving beautifully together as one.

*Indicates dancers for Thursday's performance

Photos of Nicole Teague-Howell and Isaac Sharratt by Mark Frohna

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From This Author Kelsey Lawler

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