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Ballet Excel bringing ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to Civic Theatre

3/6/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

From left, Evelyn Willett, Noelle Boyages (Belle/Beauty) and Isabella Caston share a scene in Ballet Excel Ohio’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
Photo courtesy of Steve Allen
DOWNTOWN AKRON — One of the significant things about Ballet Excel Ohio (formerly Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet) is its tradition of creating new dance-story ballets and more contemporary pieces. Ballet Excel is doing it again when it will premiere its “Beauty and the Beast” March 15-16 at Akron Civic Theatre.

The choreographer for the story ballet is Tom Gold, who has created a total of five new works for the company. Gold has a flair for dramatizing through dance complex story lines and a gift for working with and developing younger dancers and playing to their strengths.

For his “Beauty/Beast” story, Gold made some changes to the classic fairy tale, somewhat following the Disney version, according to Ballet Excel Artistic Director Mia Klinger at a rehearsal of the ballet. Essentially there are two story lines coming together — that of a nasty acting arrogant Prince being turned into the Beast by a fairy to teach him a lesson about compassion and love, and the storyline of Belle wandering into the purview of the Beast and being forced to spend her life in his angry company.

Over time, the Beast/Prince becomes more well-mannered, content and fun. He also falls for Belle, who has turned the castle into a place with joy, love, and, like her role in the tale, of Beauty. As with most story ballets, the young couple fall in love and ostensibly will live happily ever after.

To establish the tension in dance terms, Gold creates scenes of the Beast (a role danced by West Akron resident Scotto Hamed-Amos) interacting with villagers. Gold has young women of the village performing a maypole dance, which is not only a good way to let dancers do their thing, but sets up the notion of youth and love, since there is speculation that the maypole dance was a harbinger of both spring and sexual awakening in youth.

The Beast terrorizes the villagers, who, near the end of the ballet, hunt him down in rebellion before the fairy spares him and changes him back to his princely form.

The company’s younger dancers have the chance to play the roles of deer, frogs and butterflies.

A significant portion of the ballet is set within the castle. As in the Disney version, household items — statues, candelabras and the like — come to life. Dancers are dressed to look the part, but Gold infuses them with personality. As an example, the Greek-style statues come to life like “drama queens,” said Klinger. They act haughty, condescending, pompous and attempt to strut their stuff to out-do Belle, who of course surpasses them as she wins the heart of the Prince.

The household section also includes the bravura section to show the technical skills of the lead characters. Noelle Boyages, as Belle/Beauty, has a long solo as she interacts with various household items while in dance terms she performs a series of pirouettes and grand jeté moves to exemplify her grace and beauty.

Hamed-Ramos, for his part as the Beast, has a strong dance solo to show his strength in jumps (on one foot) and leaps from foot to foot in a circle. The dance gives his character the aspect of power and aggression,

Also on the dance bill with “Beauty and the Beast” will be Tom Smith’s “Cliques.” Smith is a professor of dance at The University of Akron, but worked with the older dancers of Ballet Excel to set his work of gangs of young women who bond together strongly and resist any integration with a rival clique.

In the dance, two young women, one from the “Orange” group and another from the “Blue” group (as reflected in costumes to tell one character from another), seemingly want to break out of the small circle of friends and befriend each other. The drama and power of the dance is that the cliques will not let them.

Smith’s piece is rife with moves of aggressiveness, force and vigorousness. Done in modern dance terms (as opposed to the classical technique of the other work on the bill), the language of Smith’s dance is perfect for confrontation.

Klinger said the young women had a hard time learning to be nasty to each other, but managed it. The work is danced powerfully by this company.

Performances will take place March 15 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. and March 16 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range in price from $10 to $25 and are available at the Civic Theatre Box Office, by calling 330-253-2488 or at www.balletexcelohio.org. The Civic Theatre is located at 182 S. Main St.

 

Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and board director of the Dance Critics Association. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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