Note: Normally, Late to the Theater’s resident Ballet Expert Achariya reviews performances. As she is on a well-earned family vacation, Jen attended the Saturday night performance of Arcadian Broad’s Beauty and the Beast and is writing up this review.
Saturday night, I ventured downtown to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in order to attend Arcadian Broad’s Beauty and the Beast.
Overall, the performance was an absolute delight and comes highly recommended. The choreography was playful and even cheeky while still doing honor to the balletic tradition, the costumes and sets were creative but still functional, and the story exciting and innovative while still recognizable to the audience as a well-known and loved fairy tale. I found myself wishing I’d known beforehand what an uplifting and charming evening I was in for so that I could spread the word to friends, family and coworkers looking for a more sophisticated kind of family night.
(Although Orlando Ballet originally presented this ballet in 2016, I am entirely unfamiliar with that performance and can only speak to the quality of this production and their previous piece, Romeo and Juliet. I will also assume the reader is already familiar with the Disney versions of Beauty and the Beast, from which the ballet is inspired.)
If you haven’t read our previous posts about Orlando Ballet or do not follow Orlando Ballet already, you might be forgiven for wondering who Arcadian Broad is. Arcadian Broad is Orlando Ballet’s 22-year-old Artist-in-Residence. Broad began dancing with Orlando Ballet at age 16 in 2011, the youngest dancer ever to do so. Beginning at age 13 he appeared on television shows like America’s Got Talent and The Ellen Show. Basically, he’s a star on the rise and he’s just getting started.
Broad choreographed the performance, composed the musical accompaniment, and danced the part of Gaston. If he was exhausted from so much involvement it didn’t show; his Gaston was a spot-on interpretation, balancing hilariously macho posturing, saucy winks, and the occasional finger gun at the audience during his pursuit of Belle.
As mentioned, the story draws from both the live and animated versions of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, with enough creative artistic flourishes to keep an older fan of the material delighted. For example: to represent the Enchantress’s curse, a quartet of gargoyles joins the dancers on stage to menace Prince Adam (played by Alberto Blanco) and provide an oppressive presence for the castle and its inhabitants.
Even a ballet newbie like myself could recognize occasional departures from the traditional art form: a few musical numbers incorporated what sounded like jazz or modern dance steps set to more big-band musical accompaniments. These segments always got a huge round of applause afterward, deservedly so. Still, the traditional pas de deux and entrechats were appreciated as well.
The Corps De Ballet
I will fully admit to having a pre-conceived notion about female ballet dancers being delicate and starring in stories where their characters need rescuing. I also imagined the characters to be bland and submissive– again, speaking from nothing but ignorance.
Kate-Lynn Robichaux has completely disavowed me of this notion. Her Juliet was literally a revelation, and her is Belle just as powerful. As Juliet, Robichaux is required to project beauty, grace, delicacy and innocence, but later in the performance when she is mourning Romeo, I detected notes of fury and even rage at her position and powerlessness, refreshing in a story I admittedly find a bit dull. Her Belle was also brilliant and nuanced, as displayed in her gradually becoming more and more frustrated with Gaston’s advances. Belle’s tersely polite interactions with Gaston were reminiscent of old Vaudeville comedy routines as Robichaux’s comic timing is impeccable.
Naturally, half the success of a Beauty and the Beast performance lies on the shoulders of the Beast. I was delighted when I saw that Daniel Benavides was dancing the part of Beast, as his Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet was so darkly charismatic. He prowls and rages very well, but he also projects genuine timidity and self-consciousness as the Beast’s feelings toward Belle begin to change. Unfortunately, since the Beast make-up is so time-intensive, he does not dance Prince Adam. That part was beautifully realized by the aforementioned Alberto Blanco, who interpreted the source of Adam’s arrogance to be a kind of emotional isolation that causes him to lash out at his servants, as was shown in the 2017 movie.
The performance also made great use of the dancers’ physicality in ways that seemed less restrained than a traditional ballet. Albjon Gjorllaku as LeFou, Adam Boreland as Papa Pierre, and especially the pair who played Lumiere and Cogsworth, Nick Patterson and Matthew Cunningham, all had moments of delightful loose-limbed comedy that drew real laughter from the audience. Broad as Gaston banged out a few clapping push-ups, to the audience’s delight. Likewise the fight between Beast and Gaston at the end was riveting, as it took place with little music except an atonal drone and percussive thuds to drive home the body blows each combatant landed. It’s good to remind an audience now and then that ballet dancers, gymnasts, and martial artists might use their bodies differently, but all have the same level of athleticism.
On A Personal Note
Arcadian Broad’s bio in the OB program mentions that he strives to “make ballet for the masses.” Given the performance I saw last night, he absolutely achieved that goal.
I can give you two examples of what I mean.
Upon approaching the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, I saw a little girl on the patio outside wearing Belle’s iconic yellow/gold princess dress, posing for pictures with her mother. Both were radiant. Once inside, the atrium was packed with families, including more princesses. The second example was of a father leading his toddler son by the hand into the theater; the latter was toting a folding booster seat of shiny orange plastic. Although both were dressed in chambray-patterned button-down shirts and jeans, they were very nice shirts and jeans.
Yes, I thought. This is what needs to happen. This is what ballet needs.
I do not say that to disrespect ballet – I say that as an inexperienced outsider searching for familiar landmarks in an otherwise unfamiliar artistic territory. Adapting well-loved pop culture just makes sense if the goal is reaching a wider audience. The world might not need The Avengers: The Ballet, but there are plenty of emotionally stirring tales just waiting for similar treatment. Adapting a well-loved fairy tale like Beauty and the Beast, whose entire message hinges on the main character’s ability to change, was a shrewd choice.
The balletomanes who support the performing arts and have done for decades will still go; but it only makes sense to broaden the appeal of an art form in order to see it survive. Some might consider it adulteration; others consider it evolution.
A year from now Orlando Ballet will present another Family-Friendly adaptation of Peter and the Wolf. Considering tickets sold out for the Sunday night performance of Beauty and the Beast, you may want to pencil the date on your 2019 calendar now.