Beauty and the Beast

VSB Tynan Wood and Elise Jacques in Beauty and the BeastMaking its first appearance in Canberra, a young company with big ambitions, the Victorian State Ballet introduced itself with its own full-length production of Beauty and the Beast.

Choreographed by Co-founder, Michelle Sierra, using the Russian Vaganova methodology, this vibrant young company of 30 dancers, performing to a judicious mash-up of recorded music by a variety of well-known classical composers, charmed with its youthful exuberance and stylish presentation.

While at her most inventive with the large ensemble dances, choreographer Michelle Sierra kept the action moving along quickly with inventive character dances for her soloists and spectacularly devised group dances for her large ensemble, with her dancers costumed in pretty fairy-tale costumes designed by Jan Tredrea and Jill Kerr.

Adding to the lavish fairy-tale atmosphere of the production were a succession of handsome backdrops enhanced by Martin Sierra’s moody lighting design and six large candelabra moved around the stage by dancers at appropriate moments.

The elegant white and black costumes for the opening scene were particularly lovely, as were the costumes for the swoony waltz in the second act ballroom scene, danced to Ivanovici’s Waves of the Danube (perhaps better known as The Anniversary Waltz),  that had the audience swaying in their seats.

Leading the large ensemble, Elise Jacques is an accomplished dancer with a vivacious personality, perfectly cast and quite enchanting as the youthful heroine, Belle.

Despite spending most of the ballet disguised under a rather wonderful mask, Tynan Wood managed to win the audience’s sympathy as the Beast, then once unmasked, proved a suitably noble and attentive partner as the Prince.

Tristan Gross offered a stylish characterisation as the comically boastful would-be suitor, Gaston, while the series of cleverly choreographed divertissement in the second act ballroom scene provided opportunity for the company to show off the depth of its dancing talent.

Particularly eye-catching among them were Alexia Simpson as The Rose, Henry Driver as Gaston’s mate, La Fou, and Benjamin Harris as the candelabra, Lumiere. Lucinda Worthing impressed as Wardrobe especially during her lovely solo which involved manipulating scarves thrown into the air, while Courtney Taylor also delighted with her cheeky solo as Feather Duster.

With his exuberant solo as Chip, Rilee Scott proved himself an emerging dancer to watch, while Josh Steinke excelled in the character role as Belle’s father, Maurice.

Being based on a popular classical fairytale that has regained contemporary prominence through Disney films and musicals, Beauty and the Beast, with its underlying message of true love conquering thoughtless prejudice in a setting of medieval country villages and elaborate palaces reminiscent of the classic Vaganova ballets, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty, Victorian State Ballet’s stylish production was an auspicious choice with which to showcase the accomplishments of this company.   

Judging by the enthusiastic audience response to the carefully rehearsed bows following its opening night performance, Victorian State Ballet has certainly established an appetite for future visits to the National Capital by this impressive company.

Beauty and the Beast
Canberra Theatre – Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, Canberra
Performance: Friday 24 May 2024
Season: 24 & 25 May 2024

Image: Tynan Wood and Elise Jacques in Beauty and the Beast – courtesy of Victorian State Ballet

Review: Bill Stephens OAM