With the addition of "The Sleeping Beauty" to its repertory, the Los Angeles Ballet rounds out its Tchaikovsky trilogy, having launched the company with "The Nutcracker" in 2006 and staged "Swan Lake in 2011." Taking on these three touchstones of classical ballet is a considerable achievement for any company but especially one only 9 years old.
"We consider ourselves a classical company. We're trying to shape the repertory so that we include everything that will also make the dancers that much better," company co-artistic director Colleen Neary said recently by phone with Thordal Christensen, the other artistic director, and her husband. "It really is wonderful to see the growth within the company with this repertoire."
She and Christensen choreographed this premiere "after Petipa," blending their own choreography with the well-known touchstones of French ballet master and choreographer Marius Petipa that have been passed down through ballet generations since 1890. They both had experience performing in — as well as staging — the work with the Royal Danish Ballet, which Christensen directed, while Neary worked as principal ballet mistress.
"It's the quintessential classical ballet," Neary said.
The duo researched other productions and made choices based on their specific approach and on what worked best for their 37-member company. The expansive ballet calls upon the full roster, with most dancers taking on multiple roles.
"We tried to tell the story in an organic, magical way — tried to keep it fairly light," Christensen said. "'Sleeping Beauty' can sometimes have a tendency to be very heavy in its storytelling. I think we tried to lighten it a little bit."
Christensen, a Dane, and Neary, an American whose extensive performing career began with New York City Ballet, recognize the important role that mime plays in the ballet. "You have to be true to the tradition of Petipa, but you're not telling the mime in an old-fashioned way. It is very real in its storytelling," said Neary, who performs the crucial character role of Carabosse, the irate fairy whose vengeful spell sets the plot in motion.
Their new "Sleeping Beauty," being presented in four Los Angeles-area venues, features sets and costumes designed by David Walker, originally for a 1977 Royal Ballet production.
Neary emphasizes that the Los Angeles Ballet's intention is "to bring ourselves to the communities of L.A."
"That's what we have been about for the past nine years," she adds. "It's been a recipe that has worked extremely well, and we have really developed our audiences in all these venues. We're very excited to bring a piece that's this big and this wonderful to these audiences."