Beautiful tale of beast to stage

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WALLA WALLA — Turning a centuries-old French fairy tale known as “La Belle et la Bête” into a local ballet production has been a beast of a project for The Dance Center director Idalee Hutson-Fish.

“You have to put on your creative muses and make the story work for who you have and for what you have to work with,” Hutson-Fish said about her first attempt to choreograph and present “Beauty and the Beast.”

The challenge for Hutson-Fish — as is often the case with ballet school productions — is coming up with a story that has enough parts to incorporate all the students, who in this case range from 4 to 55 years old.

Then there is the problem of having to deal with the aftermath of an entertainment giant that created its own version of the classic two decades ago.

“There will be no dancing candlesticks, swords or teapots. I can honestly say I have not (recently) watched the Disney version because I did not want to be influenced by it,” Hutson-Fish said.

What the audience can expect at this Saturday’s performance at Cordiner Hall is a ballet that will more closely follow the original fairy tale.

Written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Gallon de Villeneuve in 1740, the story was rewritten five years later into the shorter, more popular version by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont.

In the last century the tale of the beautiful young woman who is forced to live with a cursed human beast has captivated audiences of various performing arts genres, including several movies that started with the silent era, theater productions, ballets and at least two American-made television dramas series.

As for The Dance Center’s version, it will closely follow the 1946 French film noir movie version, which Caleb Leitch said he enjoyed watching for the first time as part of his prep for the role of Beast.

“I liked it. It was really very dramatic, in black and white and speaking French,” Leitch said, minutes before his Tuesday night rehearsal.

Alongside the 16-year-old Beast was Belle, played by Jessica McVane, 17.

“I just like how everything is intertwined in the story,” McVane added.

Delighted as they were to be performing the lead roles, both teens said they have experienced some rather harsh elements to tame and master.

“I guess learning it all and getting used to your body demanding that much of your energy,” Leitch said.

“Probably the acting and the facial expression. Reacting with each other,” McVane said.

For Hutson-Fish — who is also the choreographer, instructor and at times musical drill sergeant — one of the more challenging elements is working with so many different age groups.

“Designing the story around all these different ballet classes that I have to involve, so how do I put all these little ballet classes in there?” Hutson-Fish said.

The answer was to incorporate a few elements of her own to the story. The littlest of her girl dancers will be the birds that Beast allows Belle to keep as pets.

The littlest boy dancers, who are few compared to the girls, will be pages.

But Hutson-Fish also teaches adults. And they will be the country-folk women who come to celebrate Belle’s return home.

Keeping with the origin of the story, much of the music is French, relying on impressionist composers such as Claude Debussy.

“I spent hours finding music for each one of these classes and for what I am trying to represent. And I really wanted to stay in the realm of classical music in this one,” Hutson-Fish said.

About the only downside of the entire production is that there is only one performance.

“It costs thousands of dollars to do these productions and then you can only afford to do one show,” she added.

You might say it is the nature of the beast for ballet class productions. But be sure to add that the beauty of it all is in bringing a classic story to life.

“I love the story of the whole inside, of when somebody feels ugly on the outside and then they understand that beauty comes from within,” Hutson-Fish said.

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