The Charleston City Ballet’s Piccolo Spoleto production of “Beauty and the Beast” was well-meaning, if not particularly enthralling to adult patrons. The show is not based on the popular Disney film; it owes more to the French fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Unfortunately, several schlocky new elements were added to the adaptation, and some of the ballet’s narrative was decidedly unclear.
In the familiar story, a fairy puts a spell on a spoiled prince, turning him beastly. He must fall in love with a girl in order to break the spell and become a human again. In this version, the fairy character hangs around, acting as match-maker between Belle and the Beast, and for some reason enchanting a rose to “awaken the Beast’s human heart” (as the program states). But this was not made especially apparent.
The production’s worst offender was the costuming. Every outfit was tackier and brighter than the last. I’ve never seen so many sequins. The set design wasn’t much better — candy-colored lights shone on the performers, and a giant fairytale book (with childlike illustrations) was displayed in place of any set decoration or painted background.
Another invented character, a Book Elf, turned the pages of the giant book to the appropriate setting each time the scene shifted. This spritely, sassy fellow was actually a welcome addition; a breaker of the fourth wall; he flirted sweetly with the audience between scenes.
Belle (Emma Stratton) was another highlight. Stratton is natural on stage and very graceful; though she rarely held poses for too long, and grew tired by the end, stumbling a little in her last few minutes. Still, Stratton conveyed emotion convincingly. The pre-Beast Prince (Journy Wilkes-Davis) danced with a stiff look on his face; but his final pirouettes were strong and impressive. A different dancer, wearing a horned mask, was the Beast (Toleu Mukanov).
The Fairy (Anna Porter Wilkes-Davis) was an unnecessary character. Wilkes-Davis’ technique was good, but her movements appeared forced. It didn’t help that she was always accompanied by hordes of dancing pink roses, engaged in long, dull sequences ,who had nothing to do with the narrative.
This “Beauty and the Beast” is really for a young audience. Despite flaws in the production, the dancers’ technique was admirable, and the scores of little girls in the audience seemed to love every minute of it.
Anya Jaremko-Greenwold is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.