Inland Pacific Ballet’s Creation Thrills Girls Young and Old
By Courtney Blackburn
Heavy blue curtains hung, impassive, fifty feet high above stage. A few rows up, one little girl wore a twirly pink jumper over stylish white leggings, and her shoes were sparkling with pink glitter—even though they were tennis shoes. Laughter and excitement rose from the stacked blue rows of seats and filled up the Arcadia Performing Arts Center on Mothers’ Day.
Inland Pacific Ballet was about to take the stage in their original production of “Beauty and the Beast.” Arcadia High School’s theater was full of happy mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, aunts, and even a few fathers. But mostly? Adorable little girls, from toddlers to tweens, in their Sunday best.Because, as every girl knows, wearing a beautiful dress is part of the fun of going to the ballet.
And the ballet itself? In a word, “beautiful.”
From the opening scene, pulsing with dark, dramatic music in the Beast’s rose garden, to the triumphant wedding celebration gilded with glittering dancers leaping and spinning in dizzying tandem, every inch was just beautifully done.
The painted backdrops, provided by the Ahmanson Foundation and other sponsors, were of the high style seen back in Disney’s first golden age. They could have been sets for animated features in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
The music, which was carefully chosen and spliced by Choreographer Clinton Rothwell, carried the story—it was sad and dramatic whenever the Beast took the stage, chilling and pulsing when the Wolves surrounded Beauty, and absolutely show-stopping when the Beast rescued Beauty—sneaking in amongst the whirling wolves, unseen, and suddenly holding her aloft in the spotlight as the curtain fell to thunderous applause.
The background dancers–the corps de ballet–performed delicately as “Roses” in green bodices and floating pink and white skirts. They made merry as simple villagers, dancing with props such as hoes and ribbons. They transformed into twittering fairies, skipping lightly between the painted trees. The danseurs, or male dancers, morphed into skulking wolves, frightening poor Beauty (and a few children in the audience). And for the grand finale, they wore shades of gold and black and provided a solid wall of talent—spinning, leaping, arching talent–supporting the main players.
What main players! Meilu Zhai as Beauty was delicate, precise, and never stopped smiling—her pure spirit showed in her lovely lines and gentle hands. Her beautiful tutu in her wedding scene drew gasps from the children, and her bravura fouettés spontaneous applause.
The Beast, Cameron Schwanz, had to perform through his huge, immobile mask—but the arch in his back alone, whether hunching up to rise in from sleep or twisting away from Beauty in despair at her rejection, expressed the heart of the Beast better than words ever could. And when the mask was finally cast off to reveal a handsome prince, the little girls in the audience gave a collective gasp. Perhaps it wasn’t just the little girls…
Delightful comedic performances were given by Beauty’s sisters, Ashley Mohadjer and understudy Emily Baggarly, whose antics, along with those of their husbands Evan Swenson and Reece Taylor, drew giggles.
Giggles also came from the grumpy, slumping performances of four “Gnomes” played by Scarlett Arreola, Elizabeth Jacobson, Kylie Spina and Hayley Winslow in colorful pointy caps and striped socks. They were there to clean the Beast’s castle, and what a job they did!
Beauty’s father, Jonathan Sharp, drew attention with his magnificent bearing and expressive performance. He also gave a special lesson right before the performance on “balletic mime,” teaching the language to the audience. They were attentive, too—every little girl copied his motions and throughout the ballet, muttered exclamations of “that means love!” and “that means dance!” could be heard.
After the wedding onstage, the ballerinas fluttered out to the lobby to smile and pose for the cameras, and sign autographs for the awe-struck children.
Moms, grandmoms, and daughters all crowded into the glittering nest of gold tutus and enthusiastic smiles. It was a perfect ending to the spectacular show that Inland Pacific Ballet brought to Arcadia High School on Mothers’ Day.
The final shows of IPB’s “Beauty and the Beast” are next weekend at the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside. Really, it is worth seeing—not only to support this local company, but to experience a live, sweat-visible closeness to hundred-something-year-old art form made fresh, friendly, and above all else, beautiful. Visit http://ipballet.org/BeautyAndTheBeast_InfoPage.php to purchase tickets.