Dayton Ballet stages new version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’

Dayton Philharmonic will accompany performance of classic fairy tale

Two of history’s most romantic kisses are the inspiration for the Dayton Ballet’s upcoming spring concert.

“Sleeping Beauty: The Story of Briar Rose,” is the third full-length story ballet of the 2018–2019 Vistas Season and the sixth concert in the DPAA’s 2018-2019 Premier Health Masterworks Series. Accompanied by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra conduced by Neal Gittleman, the performances are slated for April 12-14 at the Schuster Center.

The kiss that awakened Sleeping Beauty from her years of slumber and “The Kiss” in Austrian artist Gustav Klimt’s famous painting inspired artistic director Karen Russo Burke to to create an all-new version of the classic fairy tale.

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Burke’s creation incorporates a fanciful new plot as well, which incorporates new costumes and set. Dancers will include the 19 members of the Dayton Ballet’s first company as well as juniors and seniors from DBII and children from the ballet school. Dancing the leading role of Briar Rose will be Jocelyn Green, Evan Pitts will portray Arden (the Prince) and Isaac Jones will be the villain, Cinereous.

Tchaikovsky’s familiar music, first performed as a ballet in Russia in 1890, has been re-configured to fit Burke’s vision.

“I wrote the libretto a year ago and went through the music last summer,” Burke explains. “What took the most time was finding the pieces of music that fit my story and seeing how they flowed together. I was doing them in a different order so I would send my version to Neal to get his read on it; we would go back and forth.”

Gittleman says “Sleeping Beauty “is one of Tchaikovsky’s greatest scores, full of beautiful, colorful music that really lets the orchestra shine — even from 10 feet below stage level!

“For me,” he says, “ the wonder of Tchaikovsky’s ballet writing is how he masters the three completely different kinds of music that classical ballet demands: short pieces of varying character for the choreographic showpieces, pageantry numbers for the crowd scenes, and narrative dramatic music to tell the story. Sleeping Beauty has all of those, and it’s all amazing, glorious music.”

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The story

The underlying plot is familiar: a young girl is found and raised by a childless couple; a curse is cast upon her by a villainous character and at the age of 16 she pricks her finger and falls into a deep sleep. Years later she is rescued by a kiss.

“That basic premise is still there, but in a different place and time with different characters,” explains Burke. “I wanted to put a different spin on it.”

Burke says she’s always looking for inspiration to tell new stories. When she decided to do “Sleeping Beauty,” she began thinking about where she wanted to set the story and what characters she would need to tell it.

“I was struck by Klimt’s “The Kiss,” a close-up of a man kissing a woman,” she recalls. “She is so serene, there are flowers all over her hair and I thought that would be a perfect setting for a new ‘Sleeping Beauty’.”

Traditionally, she says, this ballet is done by large companies in three acts and includes a lavish wedding scene in the third act. “They can have a cast of thousands, but we don’t have that many dancers so this is a smaller and more intimate and organic version,” she says. “It’s a two-act ballet that follows a similar story-line, but our fairies are flowers instead of jewels and it’s set in a garden instead of a royal kingdom.”

In Burke’s ballet, the traditional evil Caribous is turned into a Great Vulture named Cinereous. The Bluebird Variation, traditionally danced by a female at the wedding, becomes a male dancer at Briar Rose’s 16th birthday party in the new version.

Burke believes story ballets are popular because some audience members like to have an idea of what they’re going to be seeing. Ballet audiences, she says, are split. “Some will go to see something they know, others want to see something new.” She adds that a story ballet is also more accessible for families and a great way to get younger audiences.

The sets for her new ballet — whimsical gardens and ominous forests — were done by Lewis Folden.

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Renowned costumer 

Well-known New York dance costume designer Christine Darch has worked with dance companies throughout the nation. “Sleeping Beauty” is her first commission for Dayton.

Darch has designed costumes since childhood when her family’s playroom was known as the Barbie room and she and her sister made tin foil Barbie space suits. She was a regular subscriber to Vogue and W by age 11. She made her first costume designs at 14.

“She jumped on board and thought it was a great idea to use the Klimt painting as inspiration for our costumes,” says Burke. “The Kiss,” painted at the height of the artist’s “Golden Period,” sparkles with silver and gold leaf .

Carrying out Darch’s designs in Dayton is Lyn Baudendistel, wardrobe supervisor for the Dayton Ballet. She was sitting at her sewing machine working on a vulture sleeve when we stopped by for a visit.

“These colors are in a lot of Klimt’s artwork,” she said, pointing to the gemstone colors of the fabric. “And he does a lot of gold and a lot of rectangular and geometric shapes.”

Baudendistel, who works from color renderings and chats with the designer about each costume, says Darch shopped for the fabrics, then had them shipped them to Dayton.

“If I have a similar pattern I can use that, otherwise I make a new pattern,” she explains. “I create a mock-up that I try on a dancer, then make changes. I take the mock-up apart and make another pattern from that.”

Dance costumes, she adds, have to be flexible because they’ll be worn by other dancers when the ballet is repeated. Baudendistel attends studio dress rehearsals so that she can see the dancers in action. The dress rehearsal and weekend performances often require repairs and fixes.

“This is fun!” she declares. “It’s the best job ever.”

Becoming Beauty

“There’s a certain excitement and apprehension that comes with being part of a brand new ballet,” says Jocelyn Green, who has been cast in the leading role of Briar Rose. “You’re never sure what to expect. This journey has been different than learning a contemporary ballet or even a story ballet like ‘Dracula’ or ‘Gatsby’ in terms of letting go of the classical choreography that many of us know.”

Green says she and the other dancers have to be open to looking at the story in a whole new way.

“The music of Tchaikovsky is transcendent, every note tells the story,” she adds. “Many of us are very familiar with the music from seeing or dancing in the classical version over the years. I think it gives us a good head start to be so in tune with the music from get-go.”

Her favorite moment of this ballet comes toward the end, when Rose and Arden finally dance together. “The music in this pas de deux has some heart-wrenching moments and I’m really looking forward to dancing it on the Schuster stage.”

Sensory-friendly performance planned

Burke says she’s pleased to include a Saturday afternoon sensory-friendly performance of her new ballet geared to those with autism. “The lights will be at half, the music is softer and the audience will be allowed to talk and move around,” she explains. “It’s the second time we’ve done this and we’re excited to be able to do it again. It is a great experience for all of us.”

Concludes Burke: “This is a wonderful family ballet for Dayton to access younger audiences. I’m hoping the community will embrace it.”

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What: Dayton Ballet's "Sleeping Beauty: The Story of Briar Rose" accompanied by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra

When: 8 p.m. Friday, April 12 and Saturday, April 13 and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 14. At 2 p.m. on April 13, there will be a sensory-friendly performance of the ballet.

Where: Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, 1 W. Second St., Dayton

Tickets: $15 and up, available at Ticket Center Stage (937) 228-3630 or online at Senior, teacher and student discounts available at box office.

Related programming: A pre-concert "Take Note" talk will be given at 7 p.m. by Neal Gittleman and Karen Russo Burke. "Behind the Ballet," a Q&A with dancers after the show, gives audiences the opportunity to learn more about the life of a dancer.

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