Most children (and adults) are best familiar with the story of “Beauty and the Beast” through Disney’s very successful animated and live action films of the same name. The original story, as one of Disney’s songs alludes, is much older. Originally published in 1740, the fairy tale has many similarities, but quite a few differences, when compared to the more familiar modern day retelling. It is this original version which served as the basis of Cincinnati Ballet’s Family Series inaugural production of “Beauty and the Beast.”
The story tells of a beautiful young girl, aptly named Beauty, and a beastly young man. Beauty’s father, a merchant, travels to a port to secure a returned vessel. His children (in the original story, Beauty is not an only child) all ask for a gift from their father. Beauty asks for a single rose. Upon his return home, the merchant becomes lost and happens upon an enchanted castle. There he finds a rose and plucks it to bring back to Beauty. Enter the Beast, who threatens the merchant with death for the theft of the rose. The merchant explains he was only attempting to give the rose to his daughter. The Beast, alone for many years, agrees to let the merchant live and return home if he sends his daughter to live in the beast’s castle. The merchant reluctantly agrees, and Beauty finds herself transported to the castle, where Beast gives her all she could ask for, treats her well, and ultimately falls in love with her.
I had the pleasure of attending this production with my children, a boy (age 10) and twin girls (age 7). I was interested both in how they enjoyed the story itself and more importantly, the new way it was being told: through ballet. The set was striking in its minimalism, but also in is impact. There was enough room for the performers to inhabit the space, but every piece had a purpose, and not once did the stage seem sparse. The ballet was beautifully performed, and the costumes — which gave more than a passing nod to the familiar Disney variation — were beautiful as well.
One of my original concerns was how well my children would follow the story as told through dance. In this regard, the ballet was one step ahead of me, utilizing voiceover as a mechanism to bring the young audience along. This was a necessary and well-planned device, deployed at just the right time and frequency as to not take away from the performance.
I know my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but my concern was how accessible it would be for my kids. The outcome ended up being an absolute success! All three of them were engrossed in the story and delighted to see it in a new way. In a story with many great messages for children, they did not miss a thing through its interpretation using music and dance. Maybe the highest praise I can give is that my girls jumped and twirled all the way to the parking lot after the performance was over.
This was a thoroughly great performance and easily accessible and enjoyable to children and adults alike — and it didn’t even need talking teacups to do it.
Joe Maurits is the Director of Enterprise Licensing with Western & Southern Financial Group. He is a Cincinnati native and has three children with his wife, Laura.