French choreographer deftly pushes the famous story of “Beauty and the Beast” far beyond a fairy tale
MANY OF us still recall our favourite bedtime story not to mention our favourite storyteller, usually mum or dad. And even though we knew the story off by heart, we would ask for it every night. Once we grew up, though, we had no interest in hearing the story, at least in its children’s book form, so why is it that Thai TV and stage musical producers still think otherwise?
“La Belle et la Bete”, or “Beauty and the Beast”, is not only a tale as old as time, but as French as it could be, even though here in Thailand, we’re much more familiar with Disney’s animated film, stage musical and this year’s live action remake. Malandain Ballet Biarritz’s contemporary ballet “La Belle et la Bete”, staged last Monday, not only retold the tale, challenging our minds rather than touching our hearts, but also reclaimed it.
French choreographer Thierry Malandain had a lot of fun creating this work, but any audience member who failed to pay the Bt150 for a programme to read his foreword, synopsis and the list of Tchaikovsky’s compositions he chose for this work, would probably have been lost for a while.
While a narrative ballet, this exceptional work didn’t focus on telling the story, but instead concentrated on the duality of, and the thin line between, virtue and vice and that of soul and instincts, even though that also meant sacrificing its romantic values. Fittingly, Jorge Gallardo’s arresting set and costume designs, elegant and grand without being extravagant, chose only black, white, grey and gold, while details in patterns and textures clearly defined characters.
Three dancers who reappeared between scenes were like moderators and held frequent conversation with the audience with their dance movements.
Pne member of the trio, perhaps also a stage manager/narrotor, was meticulously drawing back curtains, through which characters sometimes slid, at different parts of the stage to show what he –or actually the choreographer Malandain –wanted to show us. This kept us curious and at the same time fully aware that this was one interpretation, among many possible others, of the tale.
“I thought it would be just another [Disney] ‘Beauty and the Beast’,” an audience member who seemed totally enthralled told me. “But, well, when it’s also part of the French embassy’s ongoing ‘French Highlights’, our expectations are always higher as we know they’ll always find a way to surprise us.”
And on that note, and considering that we’ve seen a considerable number of innovative reinterpretations of familiar tales –“Snow White”, “Cinderella” and “Romeo and Juliet” among the festival’s favourites in three consecutive years – by Malandain and Angelin Preljocaj, maybe it’s time to break away from this formula and to further develop the audience by pushing the envelope.
The genre of “nouveau cirque”, or modern circus, has significantly progressed, far beyond merely acrobatic skills, in the past decade and with its interdisciplinary collaboration with other performing arts genres, it has found a new home in dance and theatre festivals worldwide but not yet here.
Two highly acclaimed and globetrotting works, namely Compagnie XY’s “Il n’est pas encore minuit” (“It’s not yet midnight”) and Compagnie Yoann Bourgeois’s “Celui qui tombe” (“He Who Falls”), spring to mind.
The 19th Bangkok’s International Festival of Dance and Music is made possible through the kind support of Crown Property Bureau, Ministry of Culture, Bangkok Bank, Bangkok Dusit Medical Services, B Grimm Group, BMW, Dusit Thani Bangkok, Indorama Ventures, Nation Group, PTT Group, Singha Corporation, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Thai Airways International and Thai Union.
“Bangkok’s 19th International Festival of Dance and Music” continues to October 19, at Thailand Cultural Centre’s Main Hall.
This Saturday is a concert by Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, featuring works by Liszt, Grieg and Brahms.
Next Wednesday and Thursday, thanks to the German embassy, Stuttgart Ballet make a much-awaited return to Bangkok with John Cranko’s grand version of “Taming of the Shrew” and bring the 19th festival’s curtain down.
Tickets are from Bt1,000 to Bt5,500, at ThaiTicketMajor.
Find out more at www.BangkokFestivals.com or join the conversation at Bangkok’s International Festival of Dance and Music’s Facebook page.