Beauty and the Beast

Music: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Symphonies Nos. 1, 2, and 3; Orchestral Suites Nos. 1, 2, and 3;
The Storm,
Opus 76, arranged by Earl Bernard Murray
Scenery and Costumes: Tony Duquette
First Performance: May 23, 1958, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
Principal Dancers: Nancy Johnson as Beauty, Richard Carter as the Beast/Prince,
Julien Herrin as Beauty's father, Virginia Johnson as the Bird
Number of Dancers: 100
Duration: 1 hour and 45 minutes

Beauty Logo Lew Christensen's widely acclaimed full-length ballet Beauty and the Beast was choreographed in 1958 to celebrate San Francisco Ballet's 25th anniversary and the company's recent return from its triumphant State Department tour of the Far East. The picturesque story by Marie de Beaumont was set to an effective orchestral arrangement of music by Tchaikovsky with fanciful sets designed by Tony Duquette.

Synopsis: The curtain rises on Beauty and the Beast to reveal a dark, enchanted forest filled with stags, nymphs and mysterious forest creatures. Through the forest wander Beauty and her father. Upon entering the Beasts magic garden the father innocently plucks a red rose for his daughter. The Beast, who has been watching, is angered and banishes him from his kingdom while holding Beauty captive.

The Beast seeks the affection of the captive Beauty and commands his court to entertain her. He summons the agile Simian, who presents Beauty with flowers, rare birds, precious jewels, a crown, and a beautiful dress.

Despite the opulent gifts, Beauty is unhappy and longs for her family. The Beast, moved by her innocence, tells her of his love and offers her the red rose, the symbol of his noble and humane affection. Beauty, terrified by the Beasts appearance, flees his palace and returns to her father's cottage. The Beast's heart is broken and he mourns piteously while his court tries to console him. In his garden, while clutching the red rose to his breast, he dies of a broken heart and the curse of ugliness cast upon him.

The curtain rises on Act II to find Beauty in her home sharing her gifts with her jealous sisters. Late that night when all are asleep a stag comes to the cottage and places the red rose at the foot of Beauty's bed, summoning her to the Beast's kingdom. Beauty, awakened, realizes her love for the kind and gentle Beast and quickly returns to his palace. Finding him lying on his funeral bier she rushes to him and bestows a kiss. The kiss restores the Beast to life, breaks the beastly spell and transforms him into a handsome prince.

In the final scene, a magnificent wedding is held which concludes with a rousing mazurka as the entire kingdom rejoices in the celebration.

Beauty and the Beast, which the San Francisco News praised as "the most delightful, imaginative, enchanting and accomplished ballet production to grace the Opera House stage," proved to be one of the most popular of San Francisco Ballet's full-length works and was presented annually from 1958 through 1967.

In 1982, after twenty four years in performance, Beauty and the Beast was freshly restaged by San Francisco Ballet. Christensen's choreography and the Tchaikovsky score were supplemented and reworked and the entire two act production with its five scenes and ninety two costumes was newly redesigned by Jose Verona.

Christensen, who took many fanciful looks at love during his illustrious career, attached this note to the original production: "The old moral reads that beauty is only skin deep. So, this ballet says, is beastliness. To love is to be human, and it is no less, to humanize."

Graphic design by Tony Duquette (1958)

Back to:The Choreography of Lew Christensen, Home Page.