Beauty and the Beast told in dance

Posted 2/12/10

On Feb. 19, the curtain will rise on a Colorado Ballet company premier of “Beauty and the Beast,” a full length fairy tale ballet commissioned by …

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Beauty and the Beast told in dance


On Feb. 19, the curtain will rise on a Colorado Ballet company premier of “Beauty and the Beast,” a full length fairy tale ballet commissioned by the Hong Kong Ballet in 1999 and first performed in 2000.

Choreographer Domy Reiter-Soffer has been in Denver to set the piece on Colorado Ballet dancers, which he says is “a world-class company.” He came in September to watch them and was amazed at the agility, technique and skill dancers displayed.

“Beauty and the Beast” will become a part of the local company’s repertory now, so it can be repeated in the future.

Many fairy tale ballets are performed with choreography created a century or more ago, but this version is new, by a contemporary choreographer and offers a challenge that seasoned dancers welcome.

In a phone interview, Reiter-Soffer, a 21st century Renaissance man who not only choreographs, but paints and creates graphic art, directs theater, works with music and teaches, was articulate about his career choice and the process of creating a new work. He designed the costumes for Beauty and the Beast and worked closely with the set designer to create a village that could be anywhere in the world.

He also sought universality in the costume design. Costumes are in set 10 or 12, he thinks. Hong Kong alone did 100 performances and it has appeared in Australia and elsewhere. The costumes used in Denver belong to the Louisville Ballet. Rentals of costumes and sets among companies is common.

He had significant input regarding the music. He wrote a scenario of the new ballet, divided by minutes, for the Hong Kong composer Seen-Yee Lam.

“I can tell the style of the kind of sound I’m looking for, the instrument I hear. It’s a luxury to have a composer to do this kind of work.”

Prior to that, Reiter-Soffer, who lives in London, took the train to Paris and researched the history of this favorite tale, written by Perrault in 1697 which has enchanted audiences since.

“It’s a classic love story, with all the right ingredients,” he said, describing how he found letters from Perrault to his publishers explaining why he wrote “Beauty and the Beast.” He learned that Marie Antoinette was a great fan of this story and read it to her children.

The choreographer continues, “He wanted to say we all can be beasts. We need love to change us into princes! Stories with evil characters are often set in dark forests— the forests of our minds. We move on or die. It’s so apt today, with creditors going into the house of Belle’s father, his attack by wolves in the forest (bankers?), his imprisonment in the castle and Belle’s arrival to rescue him, when she offers to stay in his stead.” Perrault’s letters talk of a psychological journey: the father knew Belle would be all right because of her compassion and love, so he was able to leave her there.

Reiter-Soffer said he works in Europe, Asia, Australia and the U.S. It’s easy to do the research necessary prior to creating a new ballet from his London home base, at the enormous British Library in London or in easily-reached Paris. He tries to get the essence of what a writer or composer was thinking at a particular time and builds on that information. A glance at his impressive biography lists many successful works developed for companies around the world, as well as TV and film productions.

He recently had a successful painting exhibit in London, called “Genesis,“ scenes about creation, painted in oil, which “has a life of its own” and gives a patina to a work.

Pleased with the Colorado Ballet, he said “It’s a splendid looking production, close to what the real story is about, the real ’Beauty and the Beast,‘ popular with kids and grownups. It’s interesting to see how children react in different countries. Children of today are so informed. It makes a difference.” They will be familiar with the Disney version, which is more upbeat, while adults may have seen the dramatic black and white Jean Cocteau film or the animated Disney film. A 300-year-old tale has many versions.

“Beauty and the Beast” will run from Feb. 19-28 in Denver’s Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

If you go:

“Beauty and the Beast’ performances at the Ellie Caulkins Opera house, Denver Performing Arts Complex: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19, 20, 26, 27; 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24; 2 p.m. Feb. 21, 27, 28. Tickets: $19 to $129. 303-837-8888, the ticketing office is at th1278 Lincoln St., Denver


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