Fairies dance in the shadow of a New Hampshire forest, and peasant children cavort amid the greenery of Brookline’s Larz Anderson Park. And when the princess finally awakens after 100 years, the celebration spills into the opulent grand ballroom of Boston’s Fairmont Copley Plaza.
This out-of-the-box “Sleeping Beauty” is a home-grown collaboration between the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and City Ballet of Boston, and the orchestra’s music director Cynthia Woods calls the project an attempt to “embrace the possibilities that we had during COVID rather than just looking at the limitations.” This second streamed event of the season by the CSO premieres May 23 at 4 p.m., free via the orchestra’s website on YouTube, where it will be accessible on demand thereafter.
The prerecorded production, featuring original choreography by City Ballet’s resident choreographer Gianni Gino Di Marco, is made up of highlights from Tchaikovsky’s melodic and vigorous score for the original 1890 ballet. “It is some of his best music, really wonderful and glorious,” says Woods. She had to condense nearly three hours of music into a one-hour score that could be recorded by the orchestra’s musicians from their homes and then edited. It also needed to convey the ballet’s narrative arc.
Woods (who has a non-dancing role as the Queen alongside CSO tuba player Bill Whitney as the King) rehearsed the community orchestra over Zoom. Members recorded their individual parts to a click track, picking up a new set of skills in the process. “People feel like they’ve grown as musicians,” Woods says.
The accompanying choreography, performed in three different locations around the city, follows the basic narrative of Charles Perrault’s familiar fairy tale — a princess cursed by a wicked fairy falls into a deep sleep until awakened by a prince. The ballet is anchored by a cast of professionals, including Di Marco as Carabosse, Ruth Whitney as Princess Aurora/Sleeping Beauty, and Joe Gonzalez as Prince Charming, and members of City Ballet of Boston. It also includes students from the Young Artist program at Tony Williams Dance Center.
The production’s final format will feature the dance in the center of the screen surrounded by a frame of the musicians, decked out in formal concert attire. “There are a lot of performances where you see 100 people on screen in boxes,” says Woods. “That doesn’t hold very well artistically, but this is really neat. And in a ballet performance, you always want to see the ballet close up and the musicians, too, instead of them being in the pit.”
Three organizations, three filming locations, sophisticated technical demands, new sets and costumes — it’s a lot of moving parts. “We’re doing a mountain of media in a very short time to put a production like this together,” says Jay Frigoletto, who heads the production crew.
But Woods says it’s been well worth the effort, furthering the orchestra’s mission to make the arts accessible to diverse audiences and provide a platform for its committed musicians, especially given the isolation and stress of the pandemic. “We wanted to make sure we kept going forward this year,” she says. “And [the musicians] are so excited about joining with professional dancers and kids in this way to create community.”
For Di Marco, who dances the wicked fairy role of Carabosse and has performed professionally in “Sleeping Beauty” productions in Germany, Canada, and with Boston Ballet, the collaboration was an opportunity to revisit a beloved classic with a fresh eye and artistic freedom. He says the new compact version of the ballet is “like an espresso ‘Sleeping Beauty’” that gave not just professional dancers but eager young performers the chance to dance together — albeit with masks — for the first time in many months. “With a production like this, that’s how you plant the seed; nurture new talent so the art doesn’t get stale,” he says.
Woods hopes the free production helps dispel the sense of elitism that dogs the arts. “Sometimes people think classical music for ballet is old and out of touch,” she says. “I want them to hear the energy, power, and vitality of the music and see the beauty of the dance and its athleticism. I want people to have an hour that is stunning for the eyes and ears and just enjoy themselves, and see the arts as relevant to a better quality of life.”
CAMBRIDGE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND CITY BALLET OF BOSTON ‘SLEEPING BEAUTY’
May 23, 4 p.m. www.cambridgesymphony.org
Karen Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.