As another school year winds down, the Footlight Dance Centre ramps up for its annual spring performance.
Boasting sumptuous costumes, a staggeringly expansive cast of dancers and an inimitable score from one of history’s most venerated composers, this year’s production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty” promises to stick in the audience’s memory for years to come.
The iconic ballet follows the familiar fairy tale, originally put to paper by French folklorist Charles Perrault, and popularly adapted by the German duo the Brothers Grimm.
For those in need of a reminder, Perrault’s story begins at the christening party for the newborn Princess Aurora. The king and queen have invited all to attend, except for the decidedly evil fairy Carabosse, in one of the great damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t Catch 22s.
Enraged by the exclusion, Carabosse crashes the party, and places a lethal curse on the infant, sentencing her to death by spindle upon her 16th birthday. The virtuous Lilac Fairy dilutes the curse so Aurora, instead of dying, will merely sleep for a century.
Things progress according to the curse’s parameters, and after a 100-year slumber, Lilac and her cohort of good fairies enlist the aid of the dashing Prince Desiré to reverse the effects of Carabosse’s curse. Romance and happy endings ensue.
Tchaikovsky’s 1890 ballet rendition of this timeless story instantly became one of his most popular and widely lauded works, though he died before getting to fully bask in the latest of a long career of blockbuster successes.
In one of history’s great understatements, Czar Alexander III remarked to the composer that he found this latest masterpiece “very nice.”
Even those unfamiliar with this Russian ballet will likely recognize the music, which, aside from achieving its own canonical status, was also adapted to form the basis of the songs used in Disney’s 1959 animated film version.
Footlight produced the Wood River Valley premiere of this infamously challenging ballet in 2004, starring now faculty member Christine Price as Aurora.
After 15 years, Footlight director Hilarie Neely seeks to recapture the magic, opulence and choreographic wonder of this beloved ballet, feeling that the current crop of dancers is up to the challenge.
“The reason I have brought this ballet back at Footlight was due to the depth of experience and artistry of our lead dancers,” she said.
Taking the reins of this cast are eight graduating seniors, and they could hardly be more excited.
“It’s been really amazing to see this performance come to life, especially because we’ve been wanting to do ‘Sleeping Beauty’ for so many years,” said Isabella Cronin, this production’s Lilac Fairy.
Laine Whittier, a senior and this production’s Fairy of Purity, echoed this sentiment, saying, “It’s kind of our last hurrah.”
Cronin related that “The Sleeping Beauty” is a favorite among the current seniors. Each year, she said, “We’re always hoping that the next time it will be ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ so to have it be our senior year is such an amazing feeling.”
Of course, Neely and her faculty of choreographers have made some edits and adjustments to the original work, in part because the 190-person cast ranges in age and experience.
“We work with kids that are anywhere from kindergarten or pre-school to seniors in high school,” said Emelia Morgan, Footlight’s Fairy of Generosity and one of the aforementioned seniors.
Of no doubt equal consideration is the fact that the original production ran for nearly four hours including intermissions.
The Footlight rendition also expands upon the ballet art form to incorporate all areas of the company’s repertoire, which covers jazz, tap, modern and hip-hop.
During Aurora’s Rip Van Winkle-style hibernation, the ensemble signifies the passage of time by touching upon each of these different styles of dance.
“Each class is a different era, which is really cool,” said Abbie Heaphy, a senior and Footlight’s Fairy of Passion.
“We pull all of the different skills we know and combine them into something that ends up looking really cool,” Whittier said.
“I think it keeps the audience more entertained, seeing different forms of dancing,” said Cronin.
Following these interludes, the dancers return to more traditional ballet choreography and Tchaikovsky’s famous score, but these variations help add a little spice to the flow of the performance. Morgan described how the hip-hop segment immediately precedes the "Grande valse villageoise" [The Garland Waltz] from the original score.
“Sleeping Beauty” is more than a technical showcase of a dance troupe’s repertoire, however. The principal dancers have all been working carefully to individualize their characters and produce moving portraits of humanity.
“It’s about feeling the movement and expressing what we do and what we love to an audience,” Whittier said.
Though excited to graduate and tackle the next phase of life, the seniors took a moment to reflect on their pasts with Footlight as all their hard work culminates in this one final performance, and they paid especial tribute to their director, Hilarie Neely.
“She works really, really hard,” said Whittier. “So much happens behind the scenes. She does the lighting, she does the sound, she does everything, and she still comes in every day and teaches us. We admire her and her work so much.”
Neely separately praised her students as well: “This year is of course bittersweet as I watch some amazing dancers move forward to their next chapter, but also exciting for them and their journey forward,” she said, also expressing anticipation for the future, “I’m looking forward to the younger dancers’ stepping up and into [the seniors’] places as we move into the summer and next year.”
Performances will take place in the Wood River High School Performing Arts Theater in the Community Campus in Hailey. Nightly performances on Friday and Saturday, May 10-11, will kick off at 7 p.m., followed by a Mother’s Day matinee at 2 p.m. on May 12. Unlike Tchaikovsky’s original cut, Footlight’s version runs a little over two hours.