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Ballet West aims to dazzle audiences and inspire a new generation of enthusiasts through the world premiere of "Beauty and the Beast."
Though the production's title might evoke images of dancing teapots and smooth-talking candelabra, Ballet West's production, which features dancers from Ballet West II and Ballet West Academy, is anything but Disney.
"We really tried to steer away from that and go with what we found to be more interesting in the story and develop ideas from that," said principal ballet mistress Pamela Robinson.
The six-performance run begins Thursday.
Robinson and Peggy Dolkas, associate director of Ballet West II, co-choreographed "Beauty and the Beast." The duo spent many hours researching music that would allow them to bring Charles Perrault's classic fairy tale to life. The hourlong production was choreographed to music composed by Nikolai Tcherepnin and Alexander Glazunov, with the majority of the music from Glazunov's "Masquerade."
"A lot of the music in ['Masquerade'] is haunting and eerie, and a certain theme keeps coming back in the music, which we used each time for when the beast proposes to Beauty," said Robinson.
Thematic elements are found in nearly every aspect of the family-series production, from the forest setting where an evil fairy and her band of sprites, wolves and trolls reside to the Beast's castle adorned with eerie statues to the rose garden where it all begins. To bring these themes to life, Robinson and Dolkas use the talents of Ballet West Academy dancers, giving the children an opportunity to work with advanced dancers in roles outside "The Nutcracker" that differ from traditional characters.
"In no way is any of the choreography a step back," said Robinson. "We want to push our students to become the best dancers they can become."
Ballet West II dancer Zeek Wright is one of four dancers performing in the lead role of Beast. Wright came to Ballet West last summer after graduating from the University of Oklahoma in ballet performance with a minor in business. At 6 feet 8 inches tall, Wright is the same height as NBA all-star LeBron James. If he eventually lands a contract with a professional company, he would become the tallest male ballet dancer on record.
"Beauty and the Beast" marks Wright's debut in a lead role with Ballet West II.
"Beast has been alone in his castle for so long. It's been a challenging task to play the Beast being sad and grounded. There's a lot of acting involved. It's not just dancing you have to have the emotion and the feeling of it all," said Wright.
In addition to mastering the many emotions of the beast, Wright and the other dancers involved in the production had to learn how to dance alongside a narrator's voice.
"Every character has their own personal voice. You have to find different nuances in dancing the movement to go with the actual narration in telling the story. You can't go ahead of the narration because you have to go with it, so that's been interesting," said Wright.
Narration throughout the production is a foreign element to classical ballet, but Robinson hopes it will keep younger audience members interested and allow them to follow along with what is happening onstage.
"We incorporated narration into dance so that children begin to understand classical ballet pantomime while hearing words," said Robinson. "The combination of the narration and the dance helps younger audiences understand ballet at a deeper level."
Robinson said the tenderness of the story combined with charm and even some scariness should make for an unforgettable experience for audiences.
"I'm hoping it brings them joy," she said, "that it takes them away from their daily life struggles. They can escape into fantasy world for the hour and a half that they will be there."
Tale as old as time
Ballet's West's family-series production of "Beauty and the Beast" is a world premiere choreographed by principal ballet mistress Pamela Robinson-Harris and associate director of Ballet West II Peggy Dolkas, featuring Ballet West II dancers and students from the Ballet West Academy.
When • Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 31-April 2, 7 p.m.; Saturday, April 2, 2 p.m.; Sunday, April 3, noon and 5 p.m.
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15-$35; artsaltlake.org