Review: Pittsburgh Ballet's 'Beast' a feast for the eyes
It was created in 1958 for San Francisco Ballet's 25th anniversary season by artistic director Lew Christensen, and was a sensational success. It was repeated every season through 1967 and brought back intermittently thereafter until 1982, when Christensen revised it.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre acquired the San Francisco Ballet's sets and costume and rebuilt missing pieces. It also reconstructed the score Christensen put together from less-familiar pieces by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who wrote “Swan Lake,” “The Sleeping Beauty” and “The Nutcracker.”
“Beauty and the Beast” begins with a prologue for stags and nymphs in the forest, performed entirely behind a scrim. Christensen's vocabulary for the stags is immediately appealing, finding a sweet spot combining just enough imitation of animals with abstraction. He shows his wonderful sensitivity to music by introducing the nymphs when the Scherzo of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1 reaches its Trio, a lovely waltz boldly performed by the eight women.
The remainder of Act 1 takes place in the Beast's Enchanted Garden, into which Beauty and her father have wandered. Pantomime carries the story basics as the father picks a rose for Beauty, followed by the Beast's angry appearance, banishment of the father and seizing of Beauty.
Much of the first act's charm is provided by the Beast's magical creatures. These include Caryatids, statues that come to life — such as two soldiers who move their spears to block Beauty's attempts to escape.
The most important and appealing of the magical creatures in the ballet are the Simians, who construct a golden throne for Beauty. Luca Sbrizzi was charismatic as the lead Simian.
Beautiful moments in the first act were created by Alexandra Kochis as she danced Beauty's search for a way out of her entrapment. It is performed to a portion of the last movement of Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 3. Christensen's choreography was perfectly timed and spaced out by Kochis to achieve symbiosis with the violin solo.
The act ends with Beauty escaping and the Beast dying of a broken heart.
Beauty is at home with her family as Act 2 opens. Her sisters, who were vividly performed by Elysa Hotchkiss and Casey Taylor, remind us of Cinderella's envious siblings. This scene gives Joseph Parr the opportunity to fill out the father's personality as he tries to keep peace at home and protect Beauty.
Stags bring a rose to Beauty as a sign she needs to return to the Beast's domain, where she encounters the Beast's funeral procession. Realizing she loves him, she revives him with a kiss.
The Beast's transformation is powerfully staged. After he removes an outer costume piece by piece, he stands handsome as a god in magnificent princely attire, a moment enhanced with brilliant lighting.
The final scene is a wedding celebration at the prince's palace. Courtiers, led by Amanda Cochrane and Luca Sbrizzi, and Roses led by Julia Erickson and Nurlan Abougaliev provide entertainment for the wedding party. The final dance gains humor through the sisters' ungainly attempt to join the dance.
Yet, the ballet's finale also felt anticlimactic, in large part because of calm processional dancing to especially vibrant music.
Pittsburgh Ballet danced to recordings that were mediocre musically and in quality of recorded sound, even by 1958 standards. This ballet and the audience watching it deserve a live orchestra.
Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or email@example.com.