A Beast of Real Beauty; TENDER TOUCH: Robert Parker and Elisha Willis in Beauty and the Beast

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Byline: Rupert Christiansen

It's barely 18 months since Birmingham Royal Ballet star Robert Parker announced that he was leaving the company to pursue a career in America as an airline pilot. But things didn't work out as he had hoped - not least because he missed dancing so much - and now he is back in the BRB fold, where his many fans gave his return to earth a rapturous reception.

It helped that the role he was performing on this emotional occasion was one specifically created for him: one of the title roles in David Bintley's Beauty And The Beast.

This is a two-act version of the familiar French fairy tale about a girl whose unselfish love breaks a spell of ugliness cast on a prince as punishment for his excessive passion for hunting.

When I first saw it in 2003, I was disappointed by both its rambling narrative and dull choreography. Five years on, however, I'm delighted to say I have changed my view.

Bintley has had second thoughts and tightened and revised the ballet to great effect.

Visual echoes remain of Jean Cocteau's classic 1946 film version La Belle Et La Bete, and the old-fashioned mime used to convey intricacies of the plot may baffle the uninitiated.

But the story rolls along fluently; the characters are strongly etched and dance comes properly to the fore at key moments, notably in the principal characters' haltingly tender pas de deux at the end of the first act, and in a spectacular ball that is attended by the wild animals in the Beast's court. …