With its spring production, Fort Wayne Ballet is finally back on its home stage at Arts United Center. But just like the past year of pandemic pivoting, once again the ballet is adjusting.
Originally scheduled to perform The Sleeping Beauty in its traditional spring collaboration with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, the ballet is changing its program to adhere to the criteria still required for performance in Indiana.
“We’re allowed 174 in house with a cast of 33 and a crew of 10,” said Karen Gibbons-Brown, artistic director of Fort Wayne Ballet. “We have to limit it to one hour with no intermission, but we’re grateful to be back in the theater. Our dancers are anxious to share their love of dance with audiences again.”
Still unable to perform with the orchestra, which itself has been on pause for several months, Gibbons-Brown decided to adapt The Sleeping Beauty into a production which pays homage to its composer.
Three Cherished Works
With Tchaikovsky Enchanted, the ballet will perform not only three of his greatest compositions but arguably three of ballet’s most cherished works: The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake.
“We’re going to feature three ballets of Tchaikovsky, all of which were created, from conception to fruition, in five years,” Gibbons-Brown said. “It was all new choreography at that time, and the composer composed to the choreography. The music was created for dance rather than composing a piece and someone saying, ‘Let’s choreograph something to this music.’
“And at the time he composed them, he was no spring chicken, so it’s amazing that he created all of these in such a short amount of time.”
To keep it to one hour and still bring the best from these well-known ballets together meant focusing on the characters and the spirit of the dance, all of which lend themselves to spring.
This might surprise some people who associate The Nutcracker only with the holiday season.
“If you go to places other than America, you’d be surprised to see that The Nutcracker is being performed in April or August,” Gibbons-Brown said. “It’s not just a holiday piece in other places. The Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux is popular at any time.”
The Sugar Plum Fairy will be among the ballet characters heavily featured in Tchaikovsky Enchanted along with the Swan Queen from Swan Lake. But it’s the piece from The Sleeping Beauty that is a fairy tale lover’s dream come true.
“The Sleeping Beauty is a four-act ballet, but the final act, ‘Aurora’s Wedding,’ is really a standalone piece,” Gibbons-Brown said. “It’s where all of the fairy princesses come together.”
With everyone from Puss in Boots to Little Red Riding Hood on hand to celebrate Aurora’s nuptials, the happy culmination of the full ballet will help satisfy those who have been anticipating the full-length performance — at least until a longer production is possible again.
Planning and Adjusting
With things up in the air at its downtown performance venues and with the Philharmonic, Gibbons-Brown is looking ahead, long-term and short-term.
“We’re looking now at the upcoming season, and we still aren’t sure where we’ll be by fall,” Gibbons-Brown said. “We’re always working on a seven-year plan, and of course we have to coordinate with the other organizations.”
With very little being put on stage in the last year, Fort Wayne Ballet has been able to adjust its performance schedule without conflict. Tchaikovsky Enchanted is now its second performance with a live audience at the Arts United Center in the last six months.
Arts United is scrupulous in their protocols, making it a safe environment for those who attend.
But this summer, with so much still unknown, the ballet is moving outdoors for much of its performance schedule.
“We will be outdoors through September,” Gibbons-Brown confirmed. “We’re planning a regional tour, visiting places like Bluffton and Decatur, in what we’re calling our Firefly Series. It will feature our present company at outdoor venues where we hope people will feel comfortable. People can distance and wear masks.”
Additionally, the ballet is moving forward with its Summer Intensive program which brings dancers from far and near to train with Fort Wayne Ballet’s faculty and guest faculty.
This year auditions were done virtually, and plans are still being made to allow for podding to reduce possible exposures to illness.
This will mark the second summer that COVID has altered their approach to everything from performance to its academy, but Gibbons-Brown said that they’ve been learning as they go along.
“We have definitely evolved since last March when this all began,” she said. “We’ve adapted the way we use technology and the way we teach, and we try to stay as positive as we can. It’s tricky. But I will say that we are all just so grateful to be going back into a theater again. We have all missed it so much.”
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