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Betrayal, tragedy… and a wedding

The Fort Wayne Ballet’s “Damsels In Distress” cranks up the drama

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


It starts with a devastating betrayal, follows that up with a tragic suicide, and finally ends the way all fairy tales should… with a “happily ever after” wedding.

The three pieces in the Fort Wayne Ballet’s “Damsels In Distress” on March 25th and 26th don’t allow for any emotional middle ground; it’s all heightened passion and tumultuous feelings, the depths of despair or the heights of joy. The show weaves together acts — some of the most dramatic sections — from three of the most famous classic ballets ever created, with their equally famous scores performed by the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.

“I think often, there are quiet times in a ballet that are necessary to create the drama coming along, but the sections you see in ‘Damsels In Distress’ are definitely the dramatic sections of those works,” says Karen Gibbons-Brown, artistic director of the Fort Wayne Ballet, adding that “Damsels in Distress” is sort of a change of pace for the Fort Wayne Ballet, which usually does a full-evening work for the last show of the season.

Ballet’s most famous “damsel in distress,” Odette the White Swan of Swan Lake, makes an appearance in the first half of the show. The scene is Act III, an enormous ball where the Queen (Eleanora Pokhitonova Hartung) commands Prince Siegfried (Kip Sturm) to choose a bride. As the story goes, Siegfried is tricked by the evil Von Rothbart (Stefan Zubal) into choosing his daughter Odile (Lucia Rogers).

Gibbons-Brown explains that the central dance in the scene, the Black Swan pas de deux (which means “step for two” and in ballet is a dance for two performers) is really a tour de force section for the ballerina. But besides the Black Swan and Seigfried, the scene highlights a wide range of different dance styles, as each of the eligible princesses and their entourage vie for Seigfried’s attention. “Each of the princesses he has to choose from comes in with her country constituency, and they each have a folk dance or character dance of their native land,” says Gibbons-Brown.

For the second part, “Damsels in Distress” switches from ballet’s to one of literature’s most recognizable DIDs — Juliet Romeo & Juliet. This 20th century ballet (the other two in the show are from the late 1900s) is a very faithful adaptation of Shakespeare’s original. Matthew Keefe (as Romeo) and Brittany Fridenstine (as Juliet) perform the “Tomb pas de Deux,” — Romeo sneaks into the crypt where Juliet lies in a “death-like slumber” after taking a potion. Believing Juliet is dead, Romeo mourns her, drinks poison and dies. Juliet then wakes up, sees Romeo dead… well, it hasn’t earned its reputation as a tragedy for nothing.

Sergei Prokofiev’s score for Romeo & Juliet is as loved as the play itself. “Even if you don’t enjoy movement, the score is just incredible. It’s one of the finest pieces of the 20th century,” Gibbons-Brown says.

After all that betrayal and tragedy, the Fort Wayne Ballet wraps up “Damsels in Distress” with Act III of Sleeping Beauty, “Aurora’s Wedding.” At this point in the ballet, the damsel is no longer in distress; she has woken from her hundred-year slumber and is going to marry her handsome prince. Aurora (Brittany Fridenstine) and Prince Desire (Matthew Keefe) are joined by a virtual fairy tale who’s who (Puss-In-Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Big Bad Wolf) at their wedding.

The score for “Damsels in Distress” is performed by the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. The orchestral pit for a typical ballet is between 48 and 52 players; Gibbons-Brown says she thinks that that number is about right for “Damsels in Distress.” Rehearsals take place separately — coordinating both the orchestra and ballet for weeks of practice together would be a logistical nightmare. Both groups don’t get together in full until dress rehearsal, just a night or two before performance. As stressful as this might sound to the dancers, Gibbons-Brown says the rewards are worth it. “From the dancer that walks onstage as a child, to the professional, it is such a wonderful thing to work with (the orchestra),” she explains. “It truly makes it a live performance. You’re in the moment, and it’s very much about where you are at that second in the score.”

“Damsels in Distress” with the Fort Wayne Ballet and Fort Wayne Philharmonic Saturday March 25 and Sunday March 26, 2006
Arts United Center, 303 E. Main Street.
Show times: 2:00 PM & 8:00 PM on March 25
2:00 PM on March 26, 2006
Tickets are priced by age and run from $15.00 - $25.00
Call 260.422.4226 for ticket info.
The Spring Luncheon will be held on March 25 at 12:30 before the Matinee performance. Ticket prices for the Spring Luncheon/Performance range from $25.00 - $45.00. Luncheon catered by Splendid Fare

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