By Steve Sucato
Pittsburgh Current Dance Writer
One of the big five story ballets, The Sleeping Beauty remains a perennial audience favorite. The 129 year-old ballet based on the 322 year-old tale of young Princess put under a spell to slumber for a century before being awoken by the kiss a handsome young Prince combines universal familiarity and timeless grandeur with the always popular happily-ever-after ending.
This Mother’s Day weekend, May 10-12 at Downtown’s Benedum Center, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre concludes its 2018-19 season with its Sleeping Beauty production after a four year hiatus. Staged by PBT artistic director Terrence Orr after choreography by Marius Petipa, the three act ballet with prologue is danced to a sumptuous score by Tchaikovsky that will be played live by the PBT Orchestra.
I talked with PBT principal dancer Alexandra Kochis, rising star Marisa Grywalski, and first year corps de ballet dancer Tommie Kesten about the production and their respective roles in it.
The youngest member of the company at age 18, Kesten is a Pittsburgh native and attended the PBT School Graduate Program. Named after her eldest brother Tommy who passed away before she was born, Kesten began dancing at a young age but didn’t take up ballet until she was twelve. “My mom put me in it because I think she always wanted a little girl in a tutu and ballet slippers.”
This will be her first time performing in Sleeping Beauty which she calls “the ballet of all ballets.” As a corps dancer Kesten will be “all up in it,” as they say, dancing several support roles including a nymph, peasant, Fairy attendant and one of lead character Aurora’s friends. She will also step out into the spotlight as the Fairy of Energy (2 p.m., May 11) and in the difficult Bluebird Pas de Deux (8 p.m., May 11). Kesten says in preparing for the role, Orr’s coaching was key. “Him describing what an actual bluebird is like— small and fast— helped me the most in really trying to emulate one.”
In her fifth season with PBT, Grywalski was in Kesten’s shoes in 2014 when Sleeping Beauty was her debut ballet with PBT. Promoted to the rank of soloist next season, the Columbus, Ohio-native says she is excited about the opportunities that will bring.
“We all have these mini-goals in our career,” says Grywalski. “Just to be in the room learning and being coached in roles you’ve always wanted to do is so exciting to me.
For this go round of Sleeping Beauty, Grywalski will dance the White Cat (2 p.m., May 12), the Fairy of Grace (8 p.m., May 10 & 2 p.m., May 12) and the principal role of the Lilac Fairy (2 & 8 p.m., May 11); a sort of Glinda in the Wizard of Oz to the evil fairy Carabosse’s Wicked Witch-like persona.
“Each fairy in the ballet blesses the infant Princess with gifts of beauty, grace, energy and so forth, and each fairy represents their gift to her in their dancing,” says Grywalski.
As the Lilac Fairy, she, along with the Carabosse character are responsible for much of the mimed dialogue in Sleeping Beauty that advances its storyline. “I feel I have this great responsibility to carry that through clearly and honestly,” says Gyrwalski.
Starring once again in the role of Princess Aurora (8 p.m., May11), 13-year company veteran Kochis will alternate the role with fellow principal dancers Amanda Cochrane and Hannah Carter. Having performed Aurora several times in past productions, Kochis now feels like she can come at it with more of a specific point of view and really hone in on the details and characterization. “Each time you do it you try and add more layers to the character and to the technique and musicality of the role,” she says.
Kochis also feels there is a maturing of the character from an effervescent teen in act one to a self-assured woman later in the ballet.
“In my mind she is not just their sleeping for a hundred years, she is dreaming and having a maturing of her own,” says Kochis. She also feels that when Prince Désiré comes along to awaken her, he is someone she has dreamt about and has been waiting for.
In a flight of fancy, I asked her, beside husband and former PBT principal dancer Christopher Budzynski, who might she like to be awoken with a kiss like Aurora. “As a 12-year-old-girl I was a huge Gone with the Wind fan and had the biggest crush on Clark Gable,” chuckled Kochis.
Of PBT’s production Kochis says, “I feel like Terry [Orr] has chosen and curated for this production a whole host of schools of thought on Sleeping Beauty that has created a sort of greatest hits album that audiences will really love.”
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performs The Sleeping Beauty, 8 p.m., Friday, May 10, 2 p.m. & 8 p.m., Saturday, May 11 and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 12. Benedum Center, 237 7th Street. Tickets $28-112. www.pbt.org or 412-456-6666.