Once upon a time at the Ithaca Ballet, the company was hard at work on the final performance of its 49th season, “The Sleeping Beauty.”
Written by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and originally performed in 1890, “The Sleeping Beauty” chronicles the life of Princess Aurora, from the prologue, where an evil fairy casts a deathly spell on the child, to her happy fairy-tale ending. True to the familiar Disney version of the story, which was based on the ballet, a fairy casts a spell putting Aurora into a deep slumber — rather than to her death — when she pricks her finger. A prince falls in love with a vision of Aurora and goes to the castle where she is sleeping to kiss her awake.
Artistic Director Cindy Reid said she was excited to stage “The Sleeping Beauty” as her third full-length ballet with the company. Though Reid had previously staged the third act of “The Sleeping Beauty,” the company has never performed this ballet in its entirety before.
Usually, sections of a ballet are taught to the dancers altogether, but this production of “The Sleeping Beauty” has not followed the traditional rehearsal formula. Lead dancers Beth Mochizuki and Brett Whitney are both returning to Ithaca to play Princess Aurora and the Prince, respectively. Though they have performed with the Ithaca Ballet, the dancers are both now freelance professionals dancing outside Ithaca.
Reid said she tried to make it easier on the dancers by using the original choreography from the Royal Ballet version of the show performed in 1890.
“I have had to choreograph certain sections,” Reid said. “Either the personnel was different from how the Royal Ballet did it or I didn’t have 16 young men. I only had two.”
Since Mochizuki is living in Boston, she had to learn her part on her own before collaborating with the other dancers.
“I would just watch the [Royal Ballet] video,” she said. “Some of the parts I’d practice with a barre. Certain steps I just can’t practice [by myself], like the promenades.”
“The Sleeping Beauty” has more than 88 different roles, but Reid cast this production using only 40 dancers. She casts the company in the fall, and then casts the ballets using those dancers. Approximately 20 of the dancers in this production are company dancers who take daily classes at the Ithaca Ballet, while the other half of the cast is made up of local adult actors.
Reid’s mother, who is a co-founder of the company, is an expert on costuming performances for period shows like “The Sleeping Beauty.” Reid said though the company owns some tutus and costumes that can be reused for this production, volunteers are constructing many new tutus and dresses that are primarily used in the Waltz in Act One.
One of the hardest sections of the ballet comes in Act Two. The famous “Rose Adagio” is an extremely technical dance called a pas de deux, which is typically a dance between two dancers, but in “The Sleeping Beauty,” the ballerina playing the part of Aurora must dance with four different men. Usually a slower dance, it focuses on the female dancer’s technique while showcasing the male dancers’ strength as it requires them to lift, carry and turn her often.
Dancer Johann Studier, who is one of four suitors in the “Rose Adagio,” had been practicing without Mochizuki. Studier has performed in a staging of this show before and has also seen it a few times. He said it was not as challenging for him and the other men to rehearse because they had two stand-in ballerinas, but it still takes practice to relay emotions to an audience without words.
“You have to use your whole body to express an idea, and if you don’t do it well it just looks like you’re flailing out there,” he said.
Studier said though the ballet requires hard work and long hours, he enjoys dancing in the show.
“I love being part of any ballet, be it on stage, backstage or in the audience,” Studier said. “Here, in Ithaca, I get to see the kids that I have taught and danced with grow into great performers.”
The company had all of its dancers together for their first full rehearsal Monday. Reid said though only having five days together is difficult, she can’t wait to see the ballet’s premiere.
“It’s satisfying to see it up on the stage with the costumes and everybody all sparkly,” she said. “Opening night, [I hope] the curtain comes up and everyone applauds spontaneously.”
If you Go: “The Sleeping Beauty”
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: The State Theatre
How much: $7 to $19