In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Nicole Teague-Howell stars as Belle in the Milwaukee Ballet's "Beauty and the Beast," playing through the weekend at the Marcus Center. (PHOTO: Mark Frohna)

MKE Ballet's "Beauty and the Beast" is an enchanting treat for the whole family

Michael Pink invites you to be his guest at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts this weekend, as the Milwaukee Ballet debuts his ambitious yet masterful interpretation of "Beauty and the Beast."

Featuring an extensive international cast of dancers and nearly 80 children from the Milwaukee Ballet School and Academy, this Milwaukee Ballet adaptation doesn't veer too far from the familiar story. It is a tale as old as time, after all. A young prince inherits not only his parents' kingdom but their arrogance and selfishness. After an enchantress arrives at the castle, the prince is turned into a hideous beast to match his disgusting character. The only way to break this curse is – you guessed it – true love. Years later, a nearby merchant wonders into the Beast's castle and is cruelly taken prisoner. Enter Belle, said merchant's daughter, who offers to save her father's life by taking his place and living with the beast. And after a little while, something is there that wasn't there before. (Spoiler alert: It's love.)

Is it a tale as old as Stockholm syndrome? Although that has been a heavy topic of debate when it comes to "Beauty and the Beast," I respectfully disagree with those that make this argument. While admittedly, most of my knowledge of the story comes from Disney's 1991 cartoon version, I've always seen this as a genuine love story, where both characters both learn a little bit about themselves and their personal weaknesses, while opening up and seeing the good in something which, on the surface, is unappealing.

Those lucky enough to attend Milwaukee Ballet's performance, however, should do what they can to leave their Disney comparisons at the door. This version is completely devoid of singing teapots and talking clocks. Instead, Pink wisely places universally relevant and timeless struggles at the center of the story.

Belle is constantly challenged by her place in her own family and within her community; her greatest joy is to have her "nose stuck in a book." Her devotion to literature and the escape it provides from a difficult reality is especially true in today's culture, making this a story that will be impactful for adults and children alike.

"In my interpretation of the fable," says Pink, "Belle's imagination is her strength. It gives her the knowledge and confidence to take on the Beast, his world and her destiny."

Our heroine's relatable journey is beautifully portrayed by Nicole Teague-Howell (or Annia Hidalgo, depending on your performance; many of the main roles are double cast). Teague-Howell effortlessly fills the stage with her graceful and energetic movement. Isaac Sharratt, who portrayed The Beast during the Thursday evening performance, also shines, investing his dancing with the anguish of his character. His human counterpart, Davit Hovhannisyan's Prince, is equally impressive, clearly depicting the joy and freedom I can only imagine someone must feel once a curse has been lifted. (I can't speak from experience on that one.)

But casting perfect dancers is only half of what makes a ballet impactful; the rest of its success rests on a qualified creative team. In this facet, "Beauty and the Beast" certainly acquired the A-team of talent, making Michael Pink's unique vision fully realized for the Milwaukee audience. Composer Philip Feeney can certainly add "Beauty and the Beast" to his already impressive resume; his score can only be described as gorgeous. Todd Edward Ivins' eye-catching sets succeeded in transporting you to the fairy tale land of Belle and her Prince, while Paul Daigle's costume designs made me seriously consider a career change. I'd become a ballerina just for the chance to wear outfits as striking as his.

With "Beauty and the Beast," the incomparable Michael Pink has outdone himself. His beautifully choreographed creation is the fairy tale a 2018 audience needs and deserves. Certain as the sun rises in the east, you are going to love this interpretation of the beloved fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast."

Milwaukee Ballet's production of "Beauty and the Beast" runs April 12-15 in Uihlein Hall at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. Tickets are $40 to $115 and available by calling 414-902-2103 or by visiting milwaukeeballet.org.


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