Nashville Ballet opens its 2012-13 season with ‘Sleeping Beauty’

sleepingbeauty“Are you familiar with much 19th-century ballet music?” asks Paul Vasterling. “A lot of it is just a pastiche of mediocre melodies set to a boring oom-pah-pah accompaniment.”

Vasterling, Nashville Ballet’s artistic director, was leading up to a discussion of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, a vast ballet of symphonic sweep that doesn’t have a single boring, oom-pah-pah moment in it. “Tchaikovsky’s music is both beautiful and intricate,” says Vasterling. “There are some places where the dancers and I have an awful lot of trouble finding the downbeat.”

Nashville Ballet is opening its 2012-13 season with Sleeping Beauty this weekend at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Jackson Hall. No less an ensemble than the Nashville Symphony Orchestra will be in the pit, a nod to the centrality of Tchaikovsky’s score to this ballet. “It is so important to perform this ballet with a real orchestra instead of a recording,” says Vasterling. “Without an orchestra, you don’t experience all the color and energy of this ballet.”

First performed in 1890, Sleeping Beauty is widely and correctly perceived as the quintessential classical ballet. The title character is an idealized beauty who dances to such long-arched, proud and sensuous melodies as the Act 1 “Rose Adagio.” All of the company ballerinas spend considerable time en pointe, seemingly defying gravity in elegant tutus. “The tutus really leave the legs exposed, which is a challenge for the dancers,” says Vasterling. “It puts a bright spotlight on their technique.”

For this weekend’s performance, Nashville Ballet will be relying primarily on the original choreography of Marius Petipa, ballet master and choreographer at the St. Petersburg Imperial Theater. The work he created with Tchaikovsky is operatic in scope and, in its original form, lasts nearly four hours. Vasterling, like all contemporary ballet directors, has had to make cuts. “I think we’ve worked it into a manageable form,” he says.

Nashville Ballet will present Sleeping Beauty’s Prologue and Act 1 largely intact. The Prologue introduces one of the ballet’s prevailing themes, the confrontation of good and evil, embodied in the characters of the Lilac Fairy and Carabosse (the wicked fairy is usually danced by a man and in this production will be performed by former company dancer Eric Harris, best known for his portrayal of Drosselmeyer in the Nashville Nutcracker.

Act 1 introduces Aurora, a role requiring remarkable stamina to dance the 7-minute “Rose Adagio” followed in short order by a taxing solo and coda. Ballerinas Sadie Bo Harris and Kayla Rowser will share the title role.

Vasterling’s most substantial cuts come in Act 2, where he moves action briskly forward to reach the all-important Vision Scene and the “Grand Adagio.” Petipa and Tchaikovsky based their ballet on Charles Perrault’s 1695 folk tale, and in Act 3 they included such other familiar fairy tale characters as Little Red Riding Hood and Puss in Boots. Those characters will also appear in Nashville Ballet’s production. And in keeping with Perrault’s story, Nashville Ballet’s lush costumes and scenery will set the tale firmly in 17th-century France. “We’re presenting grand ballet at its best,” says Vasterling.

If you go

Nashville Ballet presents Sleeping Beauty at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Jackson Hall, 505 Deaderick St. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19 and Saturday, Oct. 20 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21. Tickets are $35 to $85. Call 782-4040 or click here.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.