It’s not all bad to be painted as a reality show villain. Just ask Ballet West soloist Allison DeBona, who starred in The CW Television Network’s “Breaking Pointe” series about the tumultuous lives of ballet dancers.
When the first season aired in 2012, cameras captured DeBona making unfeeling remarks and sometimes stirring up trouble. But DeBona cried foul, insisting the producers had mischaracterized her. By Season 2, her “evil streak” had all but vanished, and a frank sounding off on her Facebook page about the difficulties of professional dancing lauded her praise from her critics.
“It’s been great, and I’m happy with how things have turned out,” DeBona said. “The show has given me so much. Not a day goes by that there isn’t some opportunity to guest teach or dance in my inbox.”
She’ll be doing such a stint in Cleveland next month.
But DeBona will have to channel her dark side once again for her upcoming role as the villainous dark fairy Carabosse in Ballet West’s “The Sleeping Beauty,” which runs February 7-16 at the Capitol Theatre.
“It’s a difficult, dramatic role,” said DeBona, who premiered the new Carabosse three years ago when the company unveiled a newly conceived production. “I’ve thought a lot about what I can bring to it this time around, and I think she’s evolved for me. She’s more complicated than simply being evil. Sometimes she’s just scared, hurt or vulnerable.”
Perhaps DeBona has gained a little perspective on the subject.
Disney, too, has found a new fascination with the sorceress behind Sleeping Beauty’s slumber. “Maleficent,” starring Angelina Jolie and hitting theaters this spring, recounts how a pure-hearted young fairy suffers loss and betrayal at the hands of humans and becomes bent on revenge.
“She’s a captivating creature,” said artistic director Adam Sklute about Carabosse — as Maleficent is traditionally named in balletic versions. “And she has undergone significant changes.”
Formerly portrayed on the stage as an old, limping hag, Sklute gave her a makeover in 2011. Now, she is a strong and darkly beautiful fairy who wears a fabulous costume and displays lightning-fast technique.
The role has quickly become a coveted one for its technicality, power and theatricality, and Sklute said casting this empress of evil was no small task.
“Carabosse is a beautiful, vain drama queen who is strong and powerful,” he said.
Along with being technically astute, he said, the dancer who portrays her must possess a fearless command.
“I look for women who aren’t afraid to take chances,” he said. “Allison (DeBona) has a presence, a command when she walks in a room.”
For those who tuned into the reality show, there’s little argument.
“She’s the kind of person that gets noticed the minute she steps onto the stage, and she brings that strength into this role,” Sklute said.
Also dancing the dark fairy is soloist Emily Adams, and that may come as a surprise to fans used to seeing Adams cast in sweeter, gentler roles.
“Emily is a fearless performer, and her theatricality is just as powerful but very different,” Sklute said. “It’s internal, complex. She draws you in — you want to know what’s going on in her head. She does a superb job of making the character multidimensional.”
For Adams, dancing the role for the first time is an exciting and challenging opportunity.
“There are many frenetic moments — like my first entrance — where everything is happening so fast,” she said. “The movement is fast, the pantomime is fast, there’s just a lot going on. My challenge is to still get Carabosse’s story across while doing everything else.”
In this 3-year-old version of "The Sleeping Beauty," Sklute renamed the fairies to reflect the attribute that they imbue on Aurora at the celebration. Carabosse, who doesn’t get an invitation because she possesses the undesirable attribute of jealousy, then becomes a proper allegory, creating a juxtaposition of dark against light.
“It makes more sense to have a truly opposing force,” Sklute said about the change to Carabosse. He also said it’s nice to create meatier roles for more dancers in story ballets where there are traditionally only a handful.
A pillar in ballet repertoires everywhere, the tale of the maiden who pricks her finger on a spindle and falls into an enchanted sleep embodies classical ballet at its height. When Ballet West took the production on a weekend tour to Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre this past fall, praise was high.
“I was extremely nervous,” said Sklute, formerly a member of Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet team before coming to Utah. The company was not only performing before colleagues and friends of Sklute’s but also performing his production.
The Chicago Tribune came away from the performance recognizing Ballet West as “a major force” and calling the production “crystal clear and relatively brisk” — a compliment, as other productions of this ballet have been known to run for as long as three hours.
The Chicago Sun-Times commented that the company “clearly captured the imagination of the audience.” Both performances received standing ovations.
For DeBona, a Pittsburgh native, performing in Chicago was particularly special because her family was close by and thus able to make the trip to see her dance.
“It was magical for me. And as a company, we grew closer. There were some intense situations, and honestly, I think we thrive on those situations,” she said.
One intense situation may have been when, because of rain, the lights turned off and the stage went dark for a long 10 seconds. When the lights came back on, the four men dancing a mini variation were still dancing, which earned applause from the audience.
As with performers in all live theater, dancers learn to prepare for the unexpected, and from experiences such as what happened in Chicago, Ballet West knows it can survive bumps in the road.
Hopefully, the lights will stay on during this run of “The Sleeping Beauty." But if they don’t, one thing is for sure: Ballet West will keep on dancing.
If you go
What: Ballet West’s “The Sleeping Beauty”
When: Feb. 7, 8 and 12-15 at 7:30 p.m.; and matinees Feb. 8, 9, 15 and 16 at 2 p.m.
Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
How Much: $29-$79