Tom Gold, creator of the world-premiere ballet Beauty and the Beast for Ballet Excel Ohio, has watched many young dancers mature with the Cuyahoga Falls troupe, considering this is the seventh original work he has created for the pre-professional company.
“I like that continuity of coming back and working with the same kids and seeing them grow,” said the New York-based choreographer, who last year created The Little Mermaid for the company.
This year, as usual, Gold is involved not only with the dance but also with the costumes, scenery and props that flesh out his new, full-length work, which will be performed in three shows Saturday and next Sunday at the Akron Civic Theatre.
“I do think most people just sort of do their own jobs and work with a team, but sometimes I think it’s easier when you have your own vision and you explain it to everybody,” Gold said.
Gold, speaking by phone in mid-February, was in town to put the finishing touches on his new production before the 41-member company ran some trial performances in Wooster in advance of the big Civic Theatre opening.
As Gold was adapting the famous Beauty and the Beast story, he worked to avoid specific Disney references. That’s why you won’t see Mrs. Potts, Chip, Lumiere and all the kitchen utensils come out during Be Our Guest in this ballet. And there’s no suitor named Gaston.
In Gold’s version — set to music from the classical ballets Le Corsaire and La Bayadere — the statues, flowers and plants come to life in the Beast’s garden.
“I really was very conscious of not trying to copy the Disney characters,” Gold said. “I tried to keep the storyline as pure as possible.”
Because Ballet Excel Ohio is predominantly girls, Gold eliminated Beauty’s father and made her mother a key character, played by Allison Mouse. The danger begins as Beauty fetches water for her mother from the Beast’s private well, which the Beast considers sacred. He catches Beauty and tells her she must come back and live with him, or he’ll go after her mother.
“Now I have to portray a character who has a lot more feeling,” Mouse, a 15-year-old from Hudson High School, said of her motherly role. “It’s a big challenge and I love it.”
Pantomime is important in this ballet, as the characters incorporate more modern gestures to mime things such as the Beast’s claws.
“The slower and more articulate your mime is, the better it will come across to the audience,” Gold told the young dancers.
In this tale, the Beast starts out as a spoiled prince who denies a fairy dressed as a beggar a drink of his water. The fairy puts a curse on him, transforming him into a Beast until he finds true love.
At his castle, the Beast lives with magical objects such as statues, flowers, footstools and candlesticks. Chief among them is the Beast’s mother, the queen, who has been transformed into a chandelier that lights up, attended by six tiny “light bulb” girls holding her crystal swags. Even as a chandelier, this cursed queen mother, played by Grace Goldenberg, continues to act as a mother figure to the creatures in the Beast’s castle.
“I kind of help narrate the story a little bit. I teach him [the Beast] how to be more proper and then I also direct a lot of people [characters] what to do,” said Goldenberg, who has studied dance for 12 years.
An 18-year-old senior at Copley High School, she is performing her first big featured role with Gold. “Her technique has come along so well in the last couple years,” Gold said of the hardworking student.
When Gold casts a new dance with Ballet Excel Ohio, formerly the Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet, both technique and personality are important. He chose 16-year-old Noelle Boyages of Hudson to play Beauty, her first lead role, after he saw her blossom into a fresh, long-legged dancer over the summer.
“She just had all these nice, youthful, pure qualities that I thought would lend itself to that character,” Gold said.
Scotto Hamed-Ramos, 15, also shot up, which allowed Gold to give him a major partnering role as the Beast.
“Scotto is a natural for the Beast. I think everybody knows Scotto is sort of a ham and a great actor,” Gold said. “He has great expressions and his technique also has improved” after summer studies out of town. “You can really see he’s able to do adult stuff [including partnering], which is great.”
This magical story has a large corps de ballet in which dancers play fairies, nymphs, deer, frogs, butterflies, flowers, ferns, statues, lamps and more. Frozen statues switch from inanimate objects into joyfully dancing creatures as the Beast’s castle comes to life.
Boyages, a sophomore at Hudson High School, said studying at the Orlando Ballet Summer Intensive last year helped her develop the necessary artistry to play Beauty.
“A real professional dancer has to have artistry, so you have to be able to show passion,” she explained.
Hamed-Ramos said he’s enjoying playing the bad guy: “It’s really fun just being mean for once.”
The St. Vincent-St. Mary High School freshman said this is the most complex work he has ever done, including powerful solos as the Beast. The young dancer appreciates how Gold gets all the dancers involved in his works.
“How he interacts everybody on the stage, it’s incredible. Everybody’s doing something,” Hamed-Ramos said.
In contrast to Beauty and the Beast, 14 of the company members also will perform the modern dance Cliques next weekend, created by Tom Smith of the University of Akron. Adapted from a girl gang-themed dance he set on UA students four years ago, it now has themes of conflict and resolution.
“I wanted to do something that was a little bit more edgy,” Smith said.
Smith, who has been choreographing for 25 years for the company, uses a break dancing vernacular with jazz-inspired music by Ticheli. In his 11-minute dance, opposing cliques clash. Smith encouraged the young dancers to take on a different persona and stretch both their imaginations and technical skills.
“I wanted them to do something that’s a little ‘today’ and would make people uncomfortable,” he said.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson can be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.