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Jessica Abrams
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Arcadia Performing Arts Center
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Arcadia, CA
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Inland Pacific Ballet's Beauty and the Beast All Beauty and No Beast

by Jessica Abrams
May 13, 2015
Arcadia Performing Arts Center
188 Campus Drive
Arcadia, CA 91007
(626) 821-1781
Few stories have had as many incarnations as Beauty and the Beast. Between the Disney movie and the two television series not to mention the numerous ballets of the same name, the story of a beautiful girl who tames a ghastly beast with her love and tenderness has become an archetypal tale the world over.

The story is ripe for ballet, and it is difficult to imagine a ballet version of Beauty and the Beast conceived with more thought and ingenuity than Inland Pacific Ballet's production.

Operating out of various venues in the Inland Empire which is less than an hour's drive from central Los Angeles, the Inland Pacific Ballet has been a creative force in a locale not generally known for its artistic hotspots and it has done so successfully for the last twenty years. Adding to an already impressive list of ballets and guest artists, the spring production of Beauty and the Beast was conceived of and choreographed by Clinton Rothwell, a veteran of both England's Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. Rothwell, a soft-spoken man who sports a white beard and rides a Harley, gave me a little background on the production when we chatted before the show. Putting together the music alone – and the compilation includes Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Grieg and then some – took about a hundred and fifty hours. He also took a deeper view of the Beast, endowing him with added complexity by emphasizing his love of roses that few versions of the story highlight.

The ballet itself combined classical ballet technique and mime with some unorthodox steps thrown in. The beast, brilliantly danced by Cameron Schwanz, executed a tour jeté that landed on one knee, a move not seen too often in classical ballet. The fairies, when they came out, performed pirouettes that also ended in a kneeling position. One also couldn't help but notice the wonderfully rich ethnic diversity of Inland Pacific Ballet's dancers including the supremely elegant and technically masterful Meilu Zhai.

The dance in the village square mixed strong ballet technique (the male dancers in particular were unanimously solid) with both mime and use of props – in this case hoes – to make for a fun country romp that immediately took the audience to a specific place and time. The dance involving the two husbands once again combined an unorthodox jump with legs in parallel to let us know that ballet does not have to be rigid to be ballet. On the other hand, Beauty's classical line, never overextended, never showy, maintained the connection to the purity of the art form, not to mention the purity of her character. Zhai's charm and technical skill recalled a young Margot Fonteyn.

The dance of the fairies in the trees – big set pieces placed throughout the stage – made for an adorable "Midsummer Night's Dream-like" adventure. The dance of the wolves at times recalled Bob Fosse's "Steam Heat" in The Pajama Game. And that "pluck" or willingness to go beyond the confines of tradition while at the same time connecting to it when the need arose, was what made the Inland Pacific Ballet's Beauty and the Beast so successful.

Photo © & courtesy of E.Y. Yanagi

Photo © & courtesy of E.Y. Yanagi

Photo © & courtesy of E.Y. Yanagi

Photo © & courtesy of E.Y. Yanagi

Photo © & courtesy of E.Y. Yanagi

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