UBallet dances circles around Disney

With roughly 60 people and characters from the Lilac Fairy to Little Red Riding Hood, UBallet’s the Sleeping Beauty promises to be a dance tour de force.

By Michelle Lee

The Sleeping Beauty, University Ballet’s latest production, is in many ways one of the organization’s most ambitious projects to date. The full-length production, based upon the original choreography by Marius Petipa and featuring music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, retells the popular fairy tale that many of us know. However, it deviates from its Disney counterpart in several key ways.

“The ballet is much different in that it has a much wider range of characters… draws on several other famous fairy tales in its closing act,” said fourth-year and artistic director Michael Scalzo. “For example…at the wedding of Princess Aurora and Prince Desire, well known characters such as Cinderella, Scheherazade, Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf, and Puss-in-Boots, bring their stories as gifts along with lesser known tales such as that of Princess Florine and The Bluebird.”

First-year Jessica Lin and third-year Vivi DiMarco star in the leading roles of Princess Aurora and the Lilac Fairy, respectively.

Lin deems the role of Princess Aurora one of the most challenging parts in classical ballet. “Aurora has to grow throughout the ballet, starting from a sweet 16-year-old girl in Act one to a sophisticated, mature woman at her wedding in Act three,” Lin said. To prepare for her role, she studied videos of previous dancers and drew from the nuances and qualities she liked to create her own interpretation.

DiMarco further elaborated on the difficulty of the roles. “The choreography is highly technical, but there is also a lot of dramatic development, which involves pantomime and committed acting,” she said. Describing her character of the Lilac Fairy as powerful, regal, and incorruptible, she seeks to express those qualities through her dancing. “I try to convey that with port de bras that’s strong but not sharp, and with movements that are precise but generous—not static,” she said. “There’s too much vitality in her for that. She is radiant.”

Besides mastering the ballet both emotionally and technically, one of the challenges dancers and directors faced was managing such a huge production. The Sleeping Beauty comprises roughly 60 roles—one of the RSO’s largest casts ever—with many dancers playing at least two roles. Indeed, more so than in most of UBallet’s productions, the characters of The Sleeping Beauty are paramount to the ballet.

“Unlike other productions, The Sleeping Beauty draws from a theatrical tradition in which character roles are very important to the ballet’s plot,” Scalzo said. “Although the dancing is quite beautiful, much of this performance’s magic comes from a carefully constructed fairy tale environment with equally fantastical characters.” DiMarco added to this, "In some ways, Sleeping Beauty is one of the more difficult ballets to dance, because the story is so much simpler than other ballets."

Reimagining the fantasy that is The Sleeping Beauty, UBallet has teamed up with Make Up First, LLC; Tricoci University of Beauty Culture; and Broadway Costumes, Inc. to create an aesthetically stunning production. Alongside professional backdrops and authentic costumes, hair and makeup artists will help “create unique looks…especially taking on more evil and bestial roles,” said Scalzo. The production will also “incorporate a Georgian theme,” boasting such iconic elements as “large coiffed hairstyles and frilly, lace-trimmed dresses.” The extent to which The Sleeping Beauty has used professional assistance is a first in UBallet history.

“This surge in professionalism has allowed us to execute an incredibly intricate performance that required months of rehearsals and endless hours in the studio,” Scalzo said. “I am the most excited I have been in the past four years to share this amazing production with the University of Chicago community.”