Everyone likes to be the white knight, the hero in someone’s life.
Former St. Albert dancer Gailen Johnston gets to have some fun as a champion of good in Alberta Ballet’s sumptuous production of The Sleeping Beauty coming to the Jubilee Auditorium on Nov. 5 and 6.
Johnston is the Lilac Fairy, the benevolent fairy who thwarts the evil Carabosse’s curse on Princess Aurora.
“I love this role,” she says. “You get to save the day. She carries a thread throughout the ballet.”
This full-length classical ballet was first created for the Imperial Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1890. It combined the formidable talents of artistic director/choreographer Marius Petipa with that of popular composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
It is one of the three top works in the classical repertoire with an unmatched majestic score and ballet lexicon that is ultimately one of the most challenging and taxing for dancers.
“I’ve been off pointe for two years. This is a very disciplined technique and you have to be conscious of every part of your body. We had to go back to our school days and remember certain techniques. It’s been a wonderful challenge and you feel a sense of accomplishment,” adds Johnston.
Kirk Peterson, associate artistic director of Alberta Ballet during last year’s season, was tapped to mount this historically acclaimed ballet. Intimately connected to this work, he was part of the National Ballet of Washington when it performed Beauty in 1971 for the opening of The John F. Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts.
“Margot Fontaine was in it and we toured five weeks, all one-night stands — something that is no longer done today,” Peterson said.
He goes on to explain that Russian technique and theatrical expressiveness was the pinnacle of dance that every European company tried to emulate. However, after the Russian Revolution, many choreographers fled the country, taking their notations with them.
Petipa’s choreography, with some modifications, was performed at London’s Covent Garden in 1939, and in 1946 it marked the debut of The Royal Alberta Ballet at the Royal Opera House.
“It’s a wonderful fairytale. There’s a triumph of good over evil and there’s a purity of heart we’re drawn to,” Peterson added.
In keeping with emphasizing tradition, he is pulling all the stops, importing luxurious costumes designed by David Walker for the Royal Ballet’s 1977 production.
But in a nod to contemporary audience’s expectations, the four-hour score, conducted by Peter Dala and performed by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra has been edited to three hours.
As Johnston puts it, “It’s really a beautiful show. It’s a good story. There’s strong dancing and it’s a rare chance to see classical dancing.”