This weekend, Savannahians of all ages can step into a tale as old as time.
South Carolina Ballet is bringing back its production of Beauty & The Beast with more dazzle and grace than ever before.
Artistic and Executive Director William Starrett originally created the company’s unique take on the classic story in 1992.
“It was our biggest seller of all time,” he remembers. “We completely sold out three performances and had to add an additional performance—and an additional 1,200 people came to that!”
Ten years have passed since the Ballet last performed Beauty & The Beast. With a new Disney film adaptation coming to theaters in March, Starrett decided it was a perfect time to bring back South Carolina Ballet’s celebrated show.
Disney’s 1991 animated feature may be the most popular telling of the tale, but Belle and Beast’s love story goes all the way back to 1740 when French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve published her fairy tale. While writing his adaptation, Starrett journeyed all the way back to the early work and learned about its origins.
“The only principle difference between Disney and the original story is when the Beast is put under the evil spell, the court did not turn into candlesticks and clocks that sang and danced,” he says. “The court was put under a spell, and there were whispers, mists, vapors, and fog, trying to send messages to whoever came near the castle to help them understand the spell that they were under and try to get the world to know that the Beast wasn’t really horrible, he was a kind person underneath with virtues. It was their job to lure people to the castle to discover the good parts of the prince, and if they fell in love with him, the spell would be broken.”
Starrett was inspired by the details and variations of the original text, and the “vapors” in particular became a crucial, eerily beautiful element in South Carolina Ballet’s production.
“The dancers take on the spirit of fog or mist,” he explains. “It makes you think: How do you choreograph for fog? Really, the biggest challenge is there’s no ballet written for Beauty & The Beast—I had to make it up.”
For three years, Starrett researched music that would help the story unfold through score and choreography.
“The music has a texture and feeling that’s different and dramatic,” he says. “The music has to speak to me about what’s being told in the story. Mapping out the music that’s the language of the story is the most challenging part. Once you have that, through the steps and acting, you help the audience see the story without talking. You want it to be especially clear for children and for everyone. The story unfolds really easily and enjoyably.”
Regina Willoughby, a member of South Carolina Ballet since 1997, stars in the leading role as the beautiful, intelligent Belle.
In the original text, Belle is the eldest of six children. Their father, a widower, was once a wealthy merchant, but lost his wealth in a tempest at sea, forcing the family to live in a farmhouse and adapt to a very different lifestyle. Belle is the maternal sibling, a kind, protective, and self-sacrificing young woman. Starrett sees a lot of similarities in Willoughby, a mother of two.
“Regina really is a lot like that in real life,” he says. “And she’s extremely beautiful! It was a natural role—she’s a true beauty, inside and out.”
Bo Busby, a Columbia native, takes on the role of the Beast.
“He’s been a soloist with the Boston Ballet, but he’s returned home and is dancing with the company full-time,” Starrett shares. “He’s perfect for the part—very kind, extraordinarily tall, he’s 6’4”—he’s a perfect Beast!”
Above all, the Company looks forward to sharing a timeless tale with a strong, impacting message.
“To me, Beauty & The Beast is the current fairy tale of today’s generation,” Starrett says. “Everyone knows Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but somehow, Beauty & The Beast speaks to children today with a great message of, ‘Do not judge a book by its cover’ and ‘Beauty is much deeper than skin-deep.’ I just think in general, we need to remember how a good heart is—why it’s truly beautiful.”
Historically, the Ballet’s Beauty & The Beast dates sell out quickly, so Starrett encourages audiences to purchase their tickets in advance. The Civic Center performance kicks off at 5:30 so everyone can attend.
“We want to invite everyone to be our guest!” he says with a laugh.