Young toes and orchestral pros

Sleeping Beauty awakens Dayton Masonic Center

By Melissa Markham

Photo: The Gem City Ballet and Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra will perform Sleeping Beauty on Saturday, Feb. 28 and Sunday, March; 1 photo: Andy Snow

As classic a fairytale as it is a ballet, Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty tells the story of a miraculous birth, a bitter uninvited guest and a spell of death-like sleep. Its power is no match for true love, however, and is undone by a single kiss followed with the most glorious of “happily ever afters.” After over a year of preparation, Dayton’s own Gem City Ballet, in collaboration with the Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra (MVSO), takes Sleeping Beauty to the Dayton Masonic Center stage.

Barbara Pontecorvo, founder and director of Gem City Ballet, beamed with pride as she talked about how hard her members have worked to assure every fluid movement on stage is perfect. Sleeping Beauty will be Gem City’s first full-length ballet with MVSO, she said, and will be the perfect grand collaboration to celebrate MVSO’s 25th anniversary.

The subtleties throughout the ballet, Pontecorvo said, are the parts she most enjoys.

“The specific steps each fairy takes while presenting their gifts to Aurora are then mirrored by Aurora later in the ballet, as a physical reflection of the gifts she’s received,” she said. “Most ballet companies are seeing a higher demand for more and more modern pieces. This is something, though, very close to my heart. Classic ballet will always be my first love.”

Another reason this performance is set to stand above the rest, Pontecorvo said, is the casting. “Aurora and the prince aren’t in love only on stage,” she smiled. Referring to Gem City’s guests from the Cincinnati Ballet Company, soloist Courtney Connor-Jones and husband Samuel Jones will be playing the lead roles, allowing the couple’s natural romance to infiltrate the ballet and grace the audience. “[Connor-Jones] is an amazingly beautiful dancer,” Pontecorvo said. “I’m so happy to have her. The dynamic between the two of them will be a pleasure to watch.”

A perfect partnership

“What better partnership for the MVSO than Gem City Ballet?” John Root, president and concert master of MVSO said. “It’s uncommon for a smaller youth ballet company to be able to collaborate with a live orchestra in this day and age due to expense. Most local ballet companies are forced to perform to a pre-recording of the music, but because the MVSO volunteers its time, this performance will be a unique opportunity for Dayton to be a part of. We began chatting about it well over a year ago and couldn’t be more excited. This was Tchaikovsky’s favorite of all his pieces; it’s considered his best work.”

The ballet itself is typically about four hours long and includes a prologue and three acts. When performed, Root explained, the play is shortened due to length and can often not accommodate a full 70-piece orchestra due to available space. Because the MVSO and Gem City Ballet have chosen the Dayton Masonic Center for its space for both the audience and the orchestra itself, none of the music will be compromised.

“We have a harpist which is beautiful throughout, a cello solo in act two, a wonderful flute as a bluebird and a clarinet imitating a cat,” Root said. “It has been an absolute priority that we treat the music how it was intended to be heard.”

Furthering that commitment, Root also mentioned a virtuoso solo that was meant to be included in the original piece but was then pulled because of time.

“We’re including it – it’s the most beautiful piece of music on Earth,” Root said. “You’ll have a chance to hear something that no one else will.” Root himself will perform the virtuoso during the ballet, and with his 52 years of experience, it will certainly be a solo you won’t want to miss.

The directors aren’t the only ones honored to be participating. Tiffany Cichanowicz, 18, has been dancing for 12 years and is cast as Princess Florine, who dances with a bluebird before Aurora is crowned queen.

“I love performing,” Cichanowicz said. “I can’t wait to perform.”

Kaitlin Zeis, 17, has been dancing for 14 years and is cast as the Lilac Fairy.

“I love this part because she pretty much orchestrates the ballet – she’s really the one telling the story to the audience,” Zeis said. “I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity. I’ve never performed with a live orchestra before. I’m thrilled to really get into the character and get into her skin, and getting to perform with professionals; I can’t wait.”

With both Pontecorvo’s and Root’s combined experience comprising just under a century of expertise, they could not be more qualified to bring this amazing collaboration to life.

“You find something you love and you stick with it,” Root said. “This is a performance that won’t be seen quite like this again.”

The Gem City Ballet and Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra will perform Sleeping Beauty on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 1 at 2 p.m. at the Dayton Masonic Center, 525 W. Riverview Ave. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for students and seniors, and are available at mvso.org and also at the door. Gem City Ballet is also hosting a “Princess party” before Sunday’s 2 p.m. show. Anyone wishing to come is asked to call 937.550.9245 to reserve a space ahead of time.

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