Ballet Northwest marks 40th year with new version of 'Sleeping Beauty'

Contributing writerMay 9, 2013 

  • ‘SLEEPING BEAUTY’

    What: Ballet Northwest presents the fairytale ballet set to music by Tchaikovsky

    When: 7:30 tonight, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

    Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

    Tickets: $23-$30 for adults, $19-$26 for seniors and students, $14-$18 for youths

    Information: 360-753-8586, olytix.org, balletnorthwest.org

    Also: Johansen Olympia Dance Center, the school affiliated with Ballet Northwest, is celebrating its 40th year in Olympia with a reception to follow tonight’s performance.

Ballet Northwest’s spring production, “Sleeping Beauty,” marks more than one milestone for the company.

The Tchaikovsky ballet was the first one produced by artistic directors Ken and Josie Johnson, who took over the company and Johansen Olympia Dance Center five years ago. It’s the first spring ballet the couple has chosen to repeat.

And it’s part of the dance school’s 40th season.

“We have students now who are the children of former students,” Bud Johansen, who founded the school with his wife, Mary, and still teaches there, wrote in a news release about the anniversary.

“When we first arrived here in 1972, Mary said, ‘We may not be here long,’ ” he recalls. “And for one of the rare times in her life, she was wrong. And happily so.”

The Johnsons and the Johansens are celebrating the anniversary with a reception after tonight’s performance.

“We’re inviting family and friends and alumni to come back and also share in the excitement of ‘The Sleeping Beauty,’ ” Ken Johnson said.

The couple has enjoyed revisiting the Tchaikovsky ballet. “It’s been fun to see how much the dancers have improved the last four years,” he said. “We changed some of the choreography to challenge our dancers.”

The ballet’s third act is focused on the characters who come to the wedding of the awakened Aurora and Prince. “They’re the traditional fairytale characters — Red Riding Hood and the Wolf and Puss in Boots,” Johnson said. “We decided to take the fairytale theme a step further. Using the original Tchaikovsky music, we created some new parts. We have Hansel and Gretel and the witch, Rapunzel and her ladies in waiting, and then Cinderella and the stepsisters.”

The Johnsons also trimmed the ballet – which in its original version runs nearly three hours – down to a manageable two hours. The biggest change is the elimination of prince’s adventures in the forest before encountering the sleeping kingdom.

“It’s really accessible for people who might be new to ballet or families or kids,” Johnson said. “It’s fun to take the aspects of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ that people love — the beautiful classical ballet and music and the formality — but then make it accessible and not stale.”

The ballet is one of only three composed by Tchaikovsky, and like his others — “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake” — it has been an enduring favorite. “His three full-length ballets are all so different,” Johnson said. “In ‘The Sleeping Beauty,’ there are romantic sections; dramatic, dark sections; fun, whimsical character sections. It’s really a treat for the audiences and the dancers.

“A lot of neoclassical and contemporary choreographers use Tchaikovsky’s other works because his music is so well suited for ballet,” he added. “It’s so varied and beautiful.”

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