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Asleep on her feet

The Fort Wayne Ballet presents Sleeping Beauty

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


The story of Sleeping Beauty is very well known, and when the Fort Wayne Ballet’s executive Director Karen Gibbons-Brown refers to it as “a Disney ballet,” she means it in the best sense.

Like many classical ballets, Sleeping Beauty (which was originally choreographed and performed in 1890) is based on a fairy tale that has been “softened” a bit from the original, and like some of the best Disney takes on those fairy tales, it’s a rich spectacle for the eyes and ears, boasting a lush, full Tchaikovsky score (courtesy of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic), and a colorful cast of princesses, princesses, good and bad fairies, and even a handful of guests dropping in from other fairy tales.

Sleeping Beauty is one of those ballets that’s performed everywhere and often, and the story’s popularity is only part of the reason for that. “It has a lot of technical challenges, which is why in the classical ballet world, Sleeping Beauty is called a ‘benchmark ballet’,” Gibbons-Brown says. “A dancer can start by ‘walking on’ as a page carrying the princesses’ train, and eventually graduate to the prince or Aurora, and gain different skill levels all within that ballet.”

As if to illustrate the point, when the Fort Wayne Ballet last performed Sleeping Beauty in 2003, dancer Lucia Rogers played one of the fairies who attends princess Aurora’s christening. This year, Rogers shares Princess Aurora duties with Cara Allison. “It’s a pretty demanding part, so its not uncommon to have a different Aurora for different performances,” Gibbons-Brown says.

Rogers and Allison dance other roles during performances when they’re not Aurora, as do the dancers playing the “handsome prince” — David Ingram opposite Rogers and Pete Walker opposite Allison. Once again, these multiple roles aren’t uncommon, but if there seems to be a lot of it in Sleeping Beauty, it’s because there are simply a lot of roles in this ballet. The story is based around three large party scenes — Aurora’s christening, Aurora’s 16th birthday party, and Aurora’s wedding — and feature a pretty wide array of characters.

Six good fairies that come to her christening to present baby Aurora with the gifts that all fairy tale princesses need for life — tenderness, joy, beauty, song, and wit. The sixth fairy, the Lilac fairy, reserves her gift for last, which turns out to be a fortuitous decision. Evil fairy Carabosse, upset at being left off the guest list, places a curse on Aurora, declaring that at 16 she will prick her finger and die. As her christening gift, the Lilac fairy commutes the sentence, saying Aurora will sleep and can only be awoken by a handsome prince. Later, at Aurora’s wedding, a number of other fairy tale characters show up, including Puss-In-Boots and Little Red Riding Hood with the Big Bad Wolf in tow.

Once-upon-a-time, Gibbons-Brown tells me, the evil fairy Carabosse was often played by a male dancer to make the character a more imposing physical presence on stage. That’s not the case anymore, and it’s not the case for the Fort Wayne Ballet’s production — Olivia Ross plays Carabosse — but for a “fairy tale” ballet, Sleeping Beauty does feature a more-than-average number of important lead roles specifically for male dancers. In addition to the Handsome Prince, there are also four suitors that show up at Aurora’s fateful 16th birthday party, and each take their turn dancing with the princess.

The piece is called the Rose Adagio, and it’s a little tricky, one of those “technically difficult” aspects of Sleeping Beauty that Gibbons-Brown alludes to above. Each prince does the same dance with Aurora, which requires a certain skill level, not just from the dancer playing the princess, but also from the suitors. “It’s one of the hardest pieces of classical repertoire for the female,” Gibbons-Brown explains. “Each step is not technically difficult, but to do it four times in a row is a challenge. When the girl goes down the line of suitors, it changes ever so slightly with each male dancer.”

David Ingram, a Fort Wayne Ballet alumnus who currently divides his time between the North Carolina Dance Theater and the Fort Wayne Ballet (he’ll make the move to Fort Wayne Ballet “for good” next season), recruited several of his colleagues from North Carolina to guest in Sleeping Beauty. Among other roles, they’ll dance the parts of Aurora’s suitors in the Rose Adagio. And as Gibbons-Brown tells me, there are some things that simply don’t change — Sleeping Beauty was choreographed a certain way, and in order to maintain the integrity of the ballet, you need four men, all at a certain skill level, for the Rose Adagio.

Gibbons-Brown sees my next question coming before I can really finish articulating it. The answer: there are male dancers at the Fort Wayne Ballet, but many are younger and not quite at the needed skill level yet. Maybe one day, of course, but right now, she says, Fort Wayne Ballet has about 30 boy students. “But just as with girls, the question is, how long do they stay involved?” says Gibbons-Brown. “Boys have a different dynamic, because it’s quite acceptable in our society for girls to get on stage and wear the tutus and pointe shoes, but there is a point in time in our social structure where boys have to be tremendously supported by the people around them in order to take that next step and achieve that next level.”

“It’s the double whammy — you’ve got to continue to progress in your technique and your performance skills, but the second part of that is that in doing so, you have to fight some of the social mores we struggle with. I think it’s getting better. It’s more acceptable for young men to dance, because it’s now seen more as an athletic effort, and that’s very true — it is an athletic effort. If we can hang on to some of these gentlemen, we’ll have a tremendous cadre of young men.” It’s also why, in part, young men who achieve a high level of dance can be eligible for college scholarships in dance — every dance program needs men.

In keeping with this production of Sleeping Beauty being a full spectacle, costumer Tess Heet reworked many of the outfits. The older costumes she made for the 2003 production, she says, “just weren’t beautiful enough.”

“I wasn’t happy with them,” Heet adds. “They needed to fit better, they needed to look better… they just didn’t look like something someone in a fairy tale would wear.”


The Fort Wayne Ballet presents Sleeping Beauty

Friday, March 23 at 8:30 PM
Saturday, March 24 at 2:30 PM and 8 PM
Sunday, March 25 at 2:30 PM

Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Tickets: $30/adult; $25/seniors and youth; $15/children
Premium seating is available for $5 more per ticket

Tickets for the Opening Night Reception at the Ian Rolland Gallery in the Arts United Center following the March 23 performance are $10 for adults, $5 for children.

Fairytale Parities follow the matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday, an opportunity to meet the dancers and receive a special treat. Tickets are $8.

For more information or to order tickets, call Fort Wayne Ballet at 260-484-9646 or visit fortwayneballet.org

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