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Ballet West: Dancer makes classical debut in 'Sleeping Beauty'

Published February 7, 2014 4:32 pm

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"Sleeping Beauty" is a well-known fairy tale in literature and ballet. Almost equally well-known is the story in which an established star is injured and an emerging dancer takes center stage, bringing all his talent and potential to the part.

In his first leading role in a classical ballet, Adrian Fry was still flush with excitement one week before Ballet West's opening Friday of "Sleeping Beauty," after stepping into the role when veteran dancer Christopher Ruud was injured.

"I'm less nervous than I was yesterday now that we've sweated it out once in rehearsal," Fry said. "But 'Sleeping Beauty' is supremely classical and demands such purity from the dancer."

Fortunately for Fry, he will be partnering with Katherine Lawrence, who knows the leading role of Princess Aurora well. She danced it in 2007 and again in 2011 when Ballet West premiered its current staging by artistic director Adam Sklute. Ruud has performed the lead role of Prince Desire many times, so despite his knee injury, he shows up for work every day to help teach the part.

Lawrence said when Ruud was her partner in 2011 he made it easy because he knew the role so well. "But this time it's my turn to be the teacher and it's hard to find the right words when so much of it is by feeling."

In a painstaking rehearsal last week, Sklute optimistically coached the dancers, calling Ruud in from the other studio to reclaim the information his body has committed to muscle memory.

"We use video and other technology to learn these parts," Fry said. "But dance is tribal, it needs to be handed down from one muscle to the other."

Ballet is the only art form in which the essence of a lead role is handed down purely one-on-one. The parts can't be written down accurately, and it might come as a surprise to some that they are not preordained but are individualized and tailored to the talents and abilities of each individual dancer.

"It's great to have people at the front of the room who know these ballets and know what it's like to partner and be partnered in these roles," Fry said.

In such refined rehearsals, you'll never hear the superficial platitudes familiar on TV dance-competition shows. Instead, Sklute translates the "give-me-more" TV hyperbole into constructive corrections that inform dancers' performances from the inside out.

"It takes knowing each dancer — these are four distinctly different women doing Aurora," Sklute said. "Part of the history and tradition of ballet is that these grand classics were designed to be showcases for the leading dancers."

Sklute said he wants to stay true to the original classic by Marius Petipa, created to Tchaikovsky's grand score, and explained that in some instances companies replicate the choreography exactly.

"But there are many different versions of these classics," Sklute said. "Whether using slightly different accents or adjusting the musical tempi , or choosing to start from the right or the left is individual."

Ballet West performed Sklute's adaptation of "Sleeping Beauty" during a recent tour to Chicago. Dancers Christiana Bennett and Rex Tilton received positive reviews in the Chicago Tribune and the entire cast enjoyed a standing ovation.

And now the anticipation is building to know once the curtain rises what artistry and technical expertise these performers will bring to their debut roles. —

Ballet West's 'Sleeping Beauty'

Conceived and produced by Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute and danced to Tchaikovsky's brilliant score, this classic version of "The Sleeping Beauty" tells a tale of the triumph of good over evil. The king and queen celebrate the birth of their long-wished-for child, Princess Aurora. The fairies of Beauty, Joy, Kindness, Temperament and Wisdom are all invited, but the fairy of Jealousy is not and in anger she curses the child to prick her finger on a spindle and die. The fairy of Wisdom spares the princess and places her under an enchanting sleep lasting 100 years as she waits to be awakened by the kiss of a prince.

When • Feb. 7, 8 and 12-15 at 7:30 p.m.; 2 p.m. matinees Feb. 8-9 and 15-16

Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $29-$80; at arttix.org, 801-355-ARTS or at the box office. Discounts for groups of 15 or more by calling Ballet West, 801-869-6900.

For more information • http://www.balletwest.org/Performances/TheSleepingBeauty