Creating a ballet of Beauty and the Beast…

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Birmingham Royal Ballet’s spellbinding production of Beauty and the Beast returns to the Hippodrome stage at the very end of this month, 30 September – 4 October. Here you can see a series of photos taken behind-the-scenes, back when the piece was first created in 2003:

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1. This photo is one of the earliest ones from Beauty and the Beast’s creation and was taken in 2003. Here you can see Company Director and Choreographer David Bintley alongside a 1:25 scale model of part of the set. It was created by designer Philip Prowse, who also designed Birmingham Royal Ballet’s productions of Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and Carmina burana.

These modelboxes are created early on in the life of every new ballet, to establish the technical demands of the piece, and how scene changes will work logistically. Similar modelboxes exist for most of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s own productions, some even including miniature models of the characters!

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2. Nine months before the premiere, before any of the sets had been built, or a single piece of costume fabric had been cut, an image was needed for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s brochures to let people know about the forthcoming new production.

This photograph was staged for this very reason, with the Beast’s terrifying appearance only hinted at by the shadow of a half-claw, half-paw that falls across the storybook.

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3. Here you can see another early shot from Birmingham Royal Ballet’s own studios, with Company Director David Bintley choreographing a scene between Belle and the Beast.

Individual props had started to arrive by this point – in the background you can see a table bearing lavish banqueting items that move by themselves, as if by magic.

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4. As the premiere drew closer, and with designs now available, a new, more atmospheric poster design was created. The artwork above shows Belle deep in the forest, while the Beast’s face can be seen in the corner, above the outline of his castle.

With the vast sets still being completed, Birmingham’s Aston Hall was photographed at dusk to provide a suitably spooky silhouette. Meanwhile, David Bintley was the man behind the Beast’s mask which at this early stage had not yet had the countless individual hairs threaded over its surface, and so was partially obscured.

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5. During the course of the ballet, the action alternates between the Beast’s castle, and the home that Belle has left behind. With the exception of her father, all of the humans that flow through her home are far more ‘beastly’ than the animals that populate the Beast’s court.

Two notable examples of this are Belle’s sisters, Fière and Vanité. Throwbacks to the original fairytale, they are wicked and selfish in contrast to Belle’s kindness and sensitivity, but their ridiculous behaviour provides some fantastic comic moments. David has since admitted, however, that had he known at the time that he would go on to produce a ballet of Cinderella six years later, he would possibly not have given Belle such a brilliantly wicked pair of evil sisters!

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6. Here’s a close-up of another scene from the designers original scale model of the set. While the Beast’s castle is the more mysterious location, Belle’s home, shown here, is represented by a much lighter, ‘artificial’ looking set. This simple back wall drops down onto the stage when needed, hanging in front of the ever-present forest.

Over the course of the story, a flock of birds builds in numbers across the top of the wall, possibly checking up on the behaviour displayed in the household that Belle is due to return to!

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7. Here are two of the birds that perch atop the walls in Belle’s father’s house – a pair of critical-looking owls…

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8. When Belle is first transported to the Beast’s castle, she is flown there by a flock of a dozen Birds of the Air. These are played by long-legged ballerinas in feathered head-dresses, who form lines across the stage like The Rockettes. For those audience members familiar with David Bintley’s jazz ballets, they may also bring to mind the glitzy showmanship of The Orpheus Suite or The Nutcracker Sweeties.

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9. The Birds of the Air are led by a character called The Raven, a Principal role played by one of the men of the Company. In a sleek, shimmering costume, he is at once imposing and charming, and ensures that Belle’s journey to the castle is a safe one.

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10. Where the set for Belle’s home is simple and lightweight, the Beast’s castle is of far greater substance. The dense canopies of the forest reveal heavy wooden panels decorated in ornate carvings. While it is a magical place, it is clearly one that has been here for some time.

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11. When the Prince was turned into a Beast, his court were similarly turned into a set of half-animal, half-human hybrids, and a number of different creatures are clearly recognisable. Bears and badgers rub shoulders with wolves and warthogs, with each mask different from the next.

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12. While they bear the paws and claws of animals, the courtiers still retain their finery, and appear dressed in dinner jackets and ball gowns. However, in these original character designs, you can see that the costumes have frayed edges to indicate that the curse has been in place for quite some time. And as each year passes, the Beast has grown slowly more lonely…

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13. When the process of interpreting the designs into actual costumes is complete, a master document is created listing the source of all the different fabrics used, with samples attached. With this record, replacement material can be obtained in the event of damage, and in fact large quantities of spare fabric are kept on site in case of emergencies.

The costume that this document refers to is a ballgown which Belle wears during a ball that the Beast throws for her in an attempt to win her heart – a scene which you can now see below:

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14. Finally, with the efforts of every member of Birmingham Royal Ballet, combined with an army of freelance costume makers, theatrical milliners and technicians – and a consultant magician for the effects in the Beast’s enchanted castle – the curtain rises on another spell-binding production!

Have you seen Beauty and the Beast yet? Let us know in the comments box! Click here to book for this autumn’s performances, Tuesday 30 September – Saturday 4 October.

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2 comments on “Creating a ballet of Beauty and the Beast…

  1. Shelagh Badger says:

    I watched Beauty and Beast on Tuesday it was fabulous. Tyrone was superb as was Laura Day.

  2. Anne Tipper says:

    I saw B&B last week, again! I never cease to enjoy each production. Brandon Lawrence made an excellent beast.

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