M’CHIGEENG – Manitoulin’s Classic School of Dance, under the tutelage of artistic director Maja Mielonen, did it once again with a ballet production of the classic ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ The event took place May 5 at Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) and was a huge hit judging by the audience’s applause and responses like “it was great!” as Florence Nahwegahbow of Aundeck Omni Kaning exclaimed.
‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that well-loved fairy tale with adaptations world-wide on stage and screen, was written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Villeneuve and published in 1740 with a length of 100 pages. One is surprised to learn that her story is actually based on a true-life romance between Petrus Gonsalvus, a resident of the Canary Islands who was brought to the court of the royal family of France and Catherine, a servant in that court. Mr. Gonsalvus suffered from hypertrichosis, a condition that leaves one’s body and face covered in thick, dark hair.
The ballet performed was outstanding with dancers from ages three to 14 and begins with the hard-hearted prince, played by Tierra Abotosaway, dismissing an old beggar woman who sought refuge at the castle. This vagrant was really an enchantress, with Alina Arthurs in the role, who casts a spell on the prince, turning him into a beast who will stay that way forever unless he learns to love.
Act two featured Belle’s father travelling through the woods on a cold night with snowflakes played by Danielle Debassige, Allie Flikweert, Delilah Symons, Avery Panton, Angela O’Connor, Nyrah Gagnon and Sarah Joyce. He was attacked by wolves but thankfully saved by the beast. It must be mentioned how outstanding the wolves’ costumes were, worn by dancers Nyala O’Connor, Emma Chaytor, Amara Wilson-Zegil, Tegan Oliver, Sloane Tilston, and Avery Barnes, who also played guests in another scene.
Act three takes place in the castle where all the inhabitants have become rather funny looking as the spell has changed them. The maids, Mckenna Barnes, Keisha Panton and Alina Arthurs, have now become feather dusters, Chip (Lilly Tilston) is now a cup and the housekeeper, dancer Jocelyn Kuntsi, is now Mrs. Potts. Rounding out the household are the napkins, featuring Harlow Abotossaway, Elwood Nicholls, Cassie Tilston, Pat Tilston, Hazel Nicholls, Ada Nicholls, Kailyn Inglis, Reese Sabourin and Quinn Sabourin.
Belle is entertained at the castle table as the cutlery, with Brady Peltier, Sheila Nahwegahbow, Neala Shain, Madison Maracle, Lauralynn Cooper, Sophia McDonald and Livvy Burnett, dance.
The next scenes featured Belle, the Beauty, with Kieran Harper Hogge in this prime role and performing with great skill throughout the play. Dancing with her were the baker, Sonya Jacko-Cywink, and the bookkeeper, the prolific Katie Chapman, who also danced the roles of Cogsworth and Belle’s father in other scenes. As well in the little town were the village people and servants, represented by Violet Aelick, Evalena Mainprize, Mya Roy, Sloane Tilston, Avery Barnes, Dylan Kuntsi and Morgan Peltier and the triplets, featuring Mckenna Barnes, Keisha Panton and Lisa Ermilova, who also filled the role of La Lumiere, dancing solo and wearing a dazzling gold ensemble. Injecting some humour into this scene was Maurice, played by Lily Tilston, a friend of Gaston, a rather brutish young man who wanted Belle’s hand in marriage, and was portrayed by Jocelyn Kuntsi. Miss Tilston performed a solo and she was outstanding in dance and also played other roles.
With four grandchildren in the ballet production, it was to be expected that Irene Tilston and her husband, of Mindemoya, would attend this exceptional ballet performance. Ms.Tilston spoke with The Expositor, saying, “I thought that they were all fantastic. I loved it. I look forward to it every year. There is so much work involved, by Maja, the parents and the dancers. Maja is really to be commended. And the parents sew the costumes. They were lovely, the colours, the designs. Every year you wonder how could they outdo the year before, but they always do.”
Ms. Tilston also mentioned that her grandchildren’s parents drive from Espanola twice a week, to Little Current for one class and to M’Chigeeng for another, and have been doing it for many years. “There is a big commitment on the part of parents,” she added.
When the play ended, Ms. Mielonen expressed her gratitude to Manitoulin Transport for their generous donation, and to all those who assisted with production, including student fund treasurer Yana Bauer, who helped with many aspects, set designers Guy Nielen, Kurtis Aelick, and Ross Joice as well as Maggie Chapman, who did an exceptional job with the lighting and sound and Sarah VanHorne, Deana Arthurs and Guy Nielen who helped backstage. Choreography, set design and costume design was done by the inimitable Ms. Mielonen.
September will see the 25th season for the Classic School of Dance. Ms. Mielonen is open for contact at any time for registration for the fall. Call 705-377-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Facebook. Lessons will be offered in Little Current on Thursdays and at Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng on Tuesdays. Children ages three to five start with a half-hour pre-primary class; the full hour ballet class starts at age five-and-a-half to seven and up and a few years later, a one-and-a-half-hour ballet class with pointe work starts.
“Over the more than two decades I have been teaching dance,” Ms. Mielonen said, “many of my students kept dancing right into Grade 12. Some have become dance teachers, some have studied dance, some have become actors in musicals, and most have just kept dancing as if nobody is watching, carrying the memory of their dance time and performances we did together with them through their lives.”