The trick of dancing as Princess Aurora in Ballet West's upcoming production of "The Sleeping Beauty" is balance, according to interim artistic director Pamela Robinson-Harris.
"It is a difficult role to do," Robinson-Harris said before rehearsals in the Capitol Theatre. "It is a technical challenge. And once you get the steps down, you have to develop the character."
Robinson-Harris should know. She danced Aurora in 1993. But the company has been performing this version of Marius Petipa's "The Sleeping Beauty" since 1986.
"In the years before I was Aurora, I danced nearly every role," Robinson-Harris said with a laugh. "I danced the Lilac Fairy, the Nymphs, all the corps bits. I think the only role I didn't dance was Prince Florimund."
When Robinson-Harris was finally offered the role, she put a lot of pressure upon herself. "That was when John Hart was artistic director. And he didn't feel like I was the right person for the role. His main issue was the fact that I was tall. He felt Aurora should be a small 16-year-old girl. My argument to him was that I was as tall then as I was when I was 16.
"It was a challenge for me to dance Aurora. I was 32 at the time and dancing a teenager. And there were times when I got so frustrated with myself that I felt like I was 8."
Still, having danced Aurora has made it easier for Robinson-Harris to cast and coach this year's Auroras Christiana Bennett, Peggy Dolkas, Katherine Lawrence and Victoria Lock. "They are all newcomers to the role. When approaching Aurora, they need to understand the different phases in her life, as seen through the different acts."
In the first act, Aurora is still young, spry and full of energy, said Robinson-Harris. "In the second act, she comes to the prince in a vision. And she needs to be a beautiful young woman, full of grace and desirable. In the third act, when the prince awakens her with a kiss, she needs to be more than just desirable. She needs to be ready for love and for passion.
"These attributes are what I try to help bring out in the dancers. As artists, there is always trying to find that perfect interpretation."
Seth Olson, Christopher Ruud and Michael Bearden are on tap to dance Prince Florimund. "Believe it or not, one of the first things we look at when casting the prince is height," said Robinson-Harris. "We have to make sure they are compatible with the women. And, of course, we have to make sure there is chemistry between the dancers. Another thing we look for is whether or not the two dancers will inspire each other to develop their characters."
Returning to the role of the evil fairy Carabosse is Ballet West alumni Bene Arnold. "My heart beats a little faster when I think of Bene coming back to reprise this role," said Robinson-Harris. "She is larger than life and has an imposing stage presence."
Seeing the ballet come together under her direction has brought back a lot of memories for Robinson-Harris. "I remember how nervous I was stepping onstage the first night I danced Aurora. I remember how hard it was to do right. Act I was the hardest act for me because of all the technical aspects of the dancing. By the time I made it to Act II, I felt that I had hit my stride, and Act III was where I could really get into the dancing.
What: "The Sleeping Beauty," Ballet West
Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South
When: Friday through Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m.; matinee Feb. 17, 2 p.m.
How much: $17-$65
Phone: 355-2787 or 888-451-2787
E-mail: [email protected]