Beauty and the Beast

  • Choreographer: Lew Christensen
  • Music: P. I. Tchaikovsky
  • Costumes: Jose Varona
  • Lighting: Robert Eubanks, inspired by the original design of Sara Linnie Slocum
  • Set Design: Jose Varona
  • World Premiere: May 23, 1958; San Francisco Ballet, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
  • PBT Performance Date: February 2015, February 2020

Program Notes

In the spring of 1958 San Francisco Ballet celebrated its 25th Silver Anniversary. Artistic Director Lew Christensen and the company had recently returned from a triumphant tour of the Far East, sponsored by the State Department, and were soon to embark for another tour to South America. To celebrate these successes and the landmark anniversary, Christensen choreographed the new full-length ballet, Beauty and the Beast, fancifully designed by Tony Duquette and set to an ingenious arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s music by Earl Bernard Murray.

Beauty and the Beast, which the San Francisco News praised as the “most delightful, imaginative, enchanting and accomplished ballet production ever to grace the Opera House stage,” proved to be one of the most popular of SFB’s full-length works: it was presented every year from 1958 through 1967. Except for Nutcracker, no other SFB full-length work has enjoyed such a long run. For many years, Beauty and the Beast and Nutcracker were so popular that they were paired as the company’s annual Christmas fare.

After intermittent performances during the 1970s, Beauty and the Beast was restaged in 1982. Christensen’s choreography and the Tchaikovsky score were supplemented and reworked and the whole two-act production, with five scenes and 92 costumes, was freshly designed by Jose Varona—who reimagined the ballet’s enormous style and charm with his own vibrant sense of fantasy, whimsy, and stagecraft. 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.”

Synopsis (Two Acts)

Beauty and the Beast, adapted from the 18th century fairy tale by Madame LePrince de Beaumont, tells the story of a young girl, Beauty, who wanders with her father into the domain of the Beast. Beauty asks her father to pick a rose for her; he does so, and the enraged Beast takes Beauty captive and banishes her father. The beast courts the captive Beauty with everything at his command. She is terrified by his attentions, and flees to the cottage of her father and sisters. Stags from the forest come to her, bearing the rose, and lead her back. The Beast has died of a broken heart. His kingdom is in mourning, and as he lies on his funeral bier Beauty realizes she loves him. Her farewell kiss restores him to life and his true nature: the Beast is transformed into a prince, and the kingdom rejoices at the wedding of Beauty and the Prince.