You might be surprised to learn about all that goes into presenting a performance of The Sleeping Beauty. For the performers, step one is the casting, which I do in September and again in November. After my first two passes, the ballet masters and the head of the Costume Shop work through various scenarios that trigger adjustments to the casting.
Things come up like, “There’s only one tall guy coat and you’ve cast two tall guys in the same night” and “If this dancer AND that dancer were both injured, what would you do?” After at least ten casting revisions and many more gray hairs, rehearsal casting is posted and right after the opening of Nutcracker, rehearsals begin. Our expert artistic staff includes Otto Neubert, Anne Dabrowski, and Paul Gibson, plus me, and for The Sleeping Beauty we are lucky to have coach Elaine Bauer join our team to work with the principals. Unfortunately, the incomparable duo of Ronald Hynd and Annette Page was unable to join us this time around due to scheduling conflicts. Their presence is missed, but their sage advice is in all of our minds.
Our Company dancers are very quick, as you might imagine, when it comes to learning choreography, and this production uses the classical ballet vocabulary that they have been studying almost every day since they were mere tots. Aside from a lifetime in classical ballet training, they have been rehearsing in earnest for the past three and a half weeks, alongside approximately thirty of our Professional Division students and several dozen students from the lower divisions of PNB School. The Auroras, their Princes, fairies, and soloists from the third act divertissements worked during our Nutcracker run, etching out the prologue and Acts II and III. In the final weeks, character artists and supernumeraries were added to the mix, and the ballet started to take shape in our studios with complete run-throughs. Altogether, we devoted approximately 300 hours to rehearsing The Sleeping Beauty, with each principal couple receiving about fifty hours.
Our rehearsal pianists represent the orchestra in studio rehearsals. Our conductors are in attendance as well to get a feel for the choreography and the individual needs of the principals and soloists. The orchestra has far fewer rehearsal hours than the dancers, clocking in only about twelve hours over four days. They have two rehearsals with the dancers.
Months before the dancers start their first rehearsal, costumes are pulled from storage crates and assessed for repairs and alterations. Sets are also examined to see where repainting is needed and if anything might need to be rebuilt before the run. In December, dancers are called to costume fittings, and hooks and eyes are refitted to ensure a perfect and comfortable fit for every cast. At about the same time, those dancers who will be flying are fitted for their harnesses.
Closer to our tech week in the theater, fifteen dressers will review their responsibilities. Same goes for wig masters. There are dozens of fast changes for dancers, some of which involve two dressers and a wig master. Aurora wears three costumes and can go through as many as four pairs of pointe shoes in one performance. Some of the corps de ballet members will have four costume changes in one show. That’s a lot of hooks and eyes! Two makeup artists determine a timeline for makeup calls. Carabosse’s nose is applied ninety minutes before the curtain rises.
We have a crew of eighteen for this production. Luckily, many on the crew have built and run this complicated production several times previously. It’s not an easy show for them, with three complete de-constructions and builds at each of the three fifteen-minute intermissions. Our stage managers must learn every lighting cue, of which there are 110, and every scenic change. Each of these is timed to a specific note of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score and true to the choreographer’s original plan.
What have I forgotten? Parent volunteers, one dedicated kid wrangler, the great work of our lighting designer, our marketing team, box office, ushers, sound engineer…I think you’re getting the idea. We also need an audience and that’s you. The performance doesn’t exist without you,so thank you for joining us and making the dedicated work of a true army of professionals both onstage and behind the scenes come to beautiful fruition.
Right about now, Aurora is putting a few pins in her hair to secure her beautiful diamond tiara that someone created jewel by jewel. She probably has a pair of pink satin pointe shoes on her feet, with three more pairs lined up in her dressing room. And while she’s at the ready, so is Howard, who will make the curtain rise so the magic can begin.
Photos (top-bottom) Rachel Foster and Batkhurel Bold © Lindsay Thomas; Kaori Nakamura © Angela Sterling.