What goes on behind the curtains

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The ballet studio has turned into a sauna. Sweat drips off of the dancers and creates puddles on the floor. Dancers breathe heavily and their toes bleed through their shoes. Their bodies are tired but determination keeps them going. One hour has passed and there are still three more to go.

Such is the life of a dedicated dancer preparing for a big performance.

Theatre Ballet rehearsals for “Sleeping Beauty” are already in full swing even though the show is still months away. Preparations begin early, because putting together a full-length ballet is a meticulous process. It takes hundreds of hours to prepare choreography, costumes, sets, photos and a live orchestra.

Rehearsals/Choreography

The many hours spent in and out of rehearsal are vital to the success of the show. Shani Robison, artistic director of Theatre Ballet and BYU associate professor of dance, encouraged the dancers to watch different versions of “Sleeping Beauty” and pay attention to the characters in the ballet.

1209-51 071 by Jaren Wilkey/BYU.
Members of Theatre Ballet at their photo shoot for “Sleeping Beauty.”

Robison has invited Sara Webb and Michael Bearden, principal dancers for the Houston Ballet and Ballet West, to come coach the dancers during winter semester.

“The students will have two highly ranked professionals who have both performed this ballet many times coaching them individually, which will be an amazing experience,” Robison said.

There are many pas de duex (partnering) parts to the ballet, which require hours of practice. Hannah Brown, a member of Theatre Ballet, said that trust is crucial when dancing with a partner.

“It is incredibly difficult to have to learn how to trust someone so much to get you from point A to point B without talking, and be in time with the music,” Brown said.

Rehearsing this far in advance is necessary for the production to be ready by next February.

Costumes

It takes about two yards of fabric, two yards of lining, 12 yards of diamond hole netting, heavy duty hooks and eyes, elastic and bias tape to construct a tutu. Marsha Russell, the costume mistress for Theatre Ballet, is already designing and making costumes for “Sleeping Beauty.”

“It takes at least 24 hours to make one tutu,” Russell said. “I’ve made 11 tutus so far and I have one more to go. I have to come up with a design, then design a pattern. Then begins a search for the fabrics and decorations needed. Then I start the cutting and sewing process.”

Sets

The technical director for Theatre Ballet, Benjamin Sanders, will be designing the sets for “Sleeping Beauty.”

“He (Sanders) has a neat castle-with-stained-glass-windows idea,” Robison said. “Hopefully the set design shop on campus will be constructing them (the windows).”

These sets will need to be done and fully functioning by the beginning of next semester so the dancers can practice on stage with them.

Music

Having a live orchestra play for “Sleeping Beauty” is an honor for Theatre Ballet. Robison said they are joining forces with the BYU Philharmonic director, Kory Katseanes, for this production.

“Working with the orchestra is a life-changing experience for the dancers and such a privilege,” Robison said.

Although it is a good experience for the dancers to perform with a live orchestra, it can be very difficult to coordinate the dancing with the music.

“You can’t hear the same nuances in the music and you have to work through tempos that are either too fast or too slow, but I have confidence it will all come together beautifully,” Brown said.

Robison said coordinating music can be a hard process. She has to find the version of music she likes, edit the content and length, order the score and CD and show it all to the conductor so he can compare it with his score.

Sacrifice

Elise Meiners, a member of Theatre Ballet, said that even though her feet go numb after spending hours in her pointe shoes and it can be difficult to rehearse when her body is sore from the day before, it is worth the sacrifice.

“Everything makes it worth it, not just the joy of performing in the end, but the growth you get from the rehearsing process is very rewarding,” Meiners said.

With all the work that goes into planning and preparing for a full-length ballet, Brown also said the joy it brings to the dancers and everyone who is a part of the production is worth her time.

“There is something about uniting the body with the spirit to create something beautiful that brings dancers a lot of joy,” Brown said. “But when you get to share that joy with others through performing, it makes the pain and stress all worth it in the end.”

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