By Caitlin Antonios
There is hardly a more illustrious and elusive form of dance than ballet. While it may seem inaccessible to people that don’t eat caviar every night and bathe in champagne, ballet is an art that transcends class, language, country and ethnicity. Productions presented by Orange County’s own Festival Ballet Theatre (FBT) are wonderful examples of the genre’s ability to unite audiences through a communal visual experience. In FBT’s latest production, Sleeping Beauty, students and professionals alike shared the stage at the Barclay Theatre, delighting both first-time ballet goers and experts alike.
Sleeping Beauty first premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1890. Despite adapting to fit the vision of each choreographer and artistic director, like most ballets in the classical canon, the show maintained its original score and plot.
“Ballet is a unique art form as it is equal parts technique and tradition. Watching a classical ballet performance is like being being transported to the past,” said Elizabeth Farmen, the assistant to Artistic Director Salwa Rizkalla and instructor at Southland Ballet Academy. “The rigorous, athletic technique has been developed over the last 300 years, and there are still vestiges of social norms (bowing, curtsying, courting interactions between male and female dancers) that reveal customs of the past.”
It is the marriage between the choreography and music that makes ballet such an interesting art to view, encompassing its audience in a multisensory experience. The classical ballets choreographed by Marius Petipa and scored by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky saw the score and choreography created simultaneously, ensuring that each step synchronized with each musical beat.
Anyone who watched Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty could instantly recognize Tchaikovsky’s haunting and magical compositions that propel the plot of the show. As the show was performed with no dialogue, the familiarity of the story allowed the audience to understand the events within the story without having to reference the program at every break.
“Tchaikovsky’s score is iconic and emotive, and Petipa’s choreography illustrates storybook characters with charm and charisma” said performer Natalie Matsuura and UCI Class of 2015 graduate.
Not only is ballet distinct in the way it is composed, the global nature of ballet allows performers from all over the world to come together and perform without a language barrier.
“Many countries have a national ballet school and company, and ballet can play a major part of cultural identity and pride,” remarked Farmen.
The show displayed all levels of talents, from dancers as young as seven to professionals in their mid-thirties. This only further demonstrated the incredible difficulty of ballet as both an art and a sport. When audiences watched the professional international guest performers Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes, each count seemed to come with ease. The show also featured FBT Junior Trainees, reminding the audience how truly difficult each step is and the amount of unbelievable athleticism that is necessary when juxtaposed with the professional performers.
“I feel very fortunate because I had the privilege of both coaching and performing multiple roles in this production. It’s really special to share the stage not only with international guest artists, but also with the students I coached,” said Matsuura. “This is my eighth season performing at the Barclay, so in many ways it feels like home. Familiarity and friendship with the theater and stage crew creates a wonderful, welcoming atmosphere backstage that I believe positively affects our performance. There’s nothing like getting to perform with friends both onstage and in the wings.”
Festival Ballet Theatre presents a full season of shows at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Thanks to the theatre’s central location on campus, UCI students have a wonderful, accessible venue to see ballet if they are inclined to do so.
“If you have never seen a ballet performance, now is the time!” said Farmen. “Students should go and support their peers and learn about the performing arts, especially while dance is so accessible.”