The weather is changing in Swarthmore. As the temperatures rise and the school year comes to a close, most of us are in a holiday mood – excited to reclaim our children and enjoy the great outdoors!
While the rest of Swarthmore was enjoying the Farmer’s Market and the fireworks this spring, the cast and crew of the Lori Ardis Ballet Company dedicated themselves to three months of indoor rehearsal and performances to bring us another exquisite ballet.
The music of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty is filled with familiar refrains. For modern audiences some of these may call to mind images of a demure Disney princess and her hapless cartoon godmothers.
However, the theme of the original ballet had a lot more girl power!
Conceived in collaboration between composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographer Marius Petipa, the first Sleeping Beauty ballet depicted strong female characters, caught in an epic struggle between good and evil. This struggle was played out in the roles of the Lilac Fairy (originally created for Petipa’s daughter, Marie) and the wicked fairy Carabosse.
Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn have created a Sleeping Beauty that is true to the dramatic original, but with plenty of the liveliness and humor we have come to expect from an Ardis production.
As the lights dimmed for Saturday night’s performance, Mrs. Ardis came out to tell the audience a bit of the story so that even the youngest members of the audience could understand what they were about to watch.
Then the performance began with the celebration of the birth of the princess, Aurora. Six fairies arrived to bestow gifts upon the princess.
Ardis and Flynn chroreograph their ballets on their dancers – meaning that each role is uniquely created to exploit the skills of the dancer performing it. This was particularly evident in the gift-giving scene. All six fairies were phenomenal – from the Canari Fairy, danced by Rose Hodges with winsome enthusiasm, to the Violente danced with flair by Emilia Santianni.
Then, just as the Lilac Fairy (brought to life by the expressive and lovely Arbour Guthrie) was preparing to bestow her gift on the princess, Anna Morreale’s Carabosse arrived with her posse of dark helpers to ruin the fun!
If you saw Morreale play the innocent Clara in LABC’s The Nutcracker, you will fall out of your seat when you see her as Carabosse. Morreale is cool and deliberate, with technique that puts her so much in control you won’t hear her pointes tap the Marley. Ardis and Flynn moved Carabosse powerfully on a diagonal trajectory that used every inch of the stage to great effect.
The next scene opens on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday. Dancers with garlands of flowers brought the most familiar theme of the ballet to life. Then out came Aurora.
Each time I am about to watch Anna Si perform, I tell myself that my memory is exaggerating how accomplished she is. But of course, she is always even more exquisite than I remembered. Si’s Aurora alternates between giggly young girl and elegant princess in a way that should feel true to anyone who has ever been or known a sixteen year-old.
Each dancer in the party scene brought something wonderful to the table. Like always, I was impressed to see so much action on a small stage. That would not have been possible without the ensemble working seamlessly together.
The first act ended with a prick on the finger and the royal family going to sleep. The bedroom set is elaborate, with curtained walls that cleverly follow the sight lines of the flats, making the main stage and upper stage feel like one space.
Act two opened on the Prince (Donn Guthrie) dreaming of Aurora, and being woken by the Lilac fairy, who brings him to her and explains in droll pantomime how to wake her. The princess is awoken with a kiss, and then on to the third and final act, the wedding!
The wedding is celebrated first with jewel tones and then with fairy tale characters, all gorgeously costumed. Mia Davis and Kevin Gardner as Gold, and the dashing Will McCullough and Emilia Santianni as Puss in Boots & the White Cat were standouts, but truly, from the top of the line down to the littlest Hop-o’-My-Thumb dancer (one of whom is my own child, read more about that HERE) every company member came to the stage with enthusiasm and danced with precision.
In the final pas de deux, Aurora and her Prince dazzled us with a series of stunning lifts and two no-handed fish (deceptively difficult lifts which required as much core strength from Si as overall power from Guthrie).
Naturally the audience went wild. As the entire ensemble came out for their curtain call we clapped until our hands hurt. As if perhaps we would rather dream away one hundred years with them, than go back out into the beautiful spring night.
Most performances are sold out, however, if you stop by thirty minutes before one of the remaining performances this Saturday, you might just get lucky! They are Saturday, 6/6 at 11am and 7:30pm. (The Sunday, 6/7 at 2pm is completely sold out.)
Fun Facts about LABC’s Sleeping Beauty:
- Anna Si (Aurora) is only sixteen years old herself – the exact age of the character she plays! Anna Morreale (Carabosse) is also sixteen – her birthday is just two weeks from Si’s! And Arbour Guthrie (the Lilac Fairy) is only seventeen. The level of professionalism on the stage as a whole defies the age of the younger performers. Only the gleaming of a few sets of braces serves to remind us!
- The youngest cast member is six years old.
- The oldest is eighty!
- There are EIGHT families with more than one family member performing in the ballet!
Did seeing the production make you want to dance too? Swarthmore Ballet Theatre offers professional level training to children and adults. Tuition is inexpensive and attendance is practically a rite of passage for the lucky children of our community. Please visit http://swarthmoreballettheatre.com to learn more! (You can also check out my post about my own children’s experience at the school here.)