Ballet Austin’s ‘Belle Redux’ is a dark vision of the classic fairy tale

The story of Beauty and the Beast has been told in many ways, but never has it veered into such dark avenues as in Ballet Austin’s production of Belle Redux. Wrenching out the most shadowy alcoves of the classic French tale, the Ballet, formulated in the mind of Stephen Mills, tells us a tale of a beast torn between good and evil, and the beautiful young woman who loves him despite it all. It takes many different turns than the original story, but what remains is a beauty and wonder that’s beyond compare.

The world in which Belle Redux lives is a dark one, but it’s admirable how everything that happens on stage is in service to that mood. From the sharp, striking movements of the dancers, to Michael Raiford’s startling costumes, which shows heavy and intriguing use of leather and hoods, to the well-timed projection work. Underscoring it all is the eerie and industrial score by nationally-recognized composer Graham Reynolds, who channels his own Philip Glass to plunge the audience into dark soundscapes, which help to center us right in the heart of darkness.

Among the darkness of the play, there are few performances that bring a refreshing light. One of the most surprising is Frank Shott as Belle’s father, whose beaming smile and uplifting demeanor help to bring a little bit of sunshine of most of the gray skies of the ballet. Our heroine, Belle, played by Michelle Thompson also brings her brightness, as from her lithe, smooth movement and easy air make every scene she’s in shine. The costumes also help in this, as her colorful costumes stand in stark contrast to the black, grays, and browns that predominate the color scheme.

Belle Redux is a nightmarishly gorgeous piece, pulling from sources as varied as the original story, Jean Cocteau’s French classic, and even a little of Disney’s well-known animated film, to create some wildly unique. Forgoing the story’s usual high romance for something more akin to dread, Ballet Austin’s Belle Redux still weaves a potent spell, one a bit more sinister, though not any less seductive.

Photo Courtesy of Tony Spielberg

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