Review: Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s Sleeping Beauty @ Akron Civic Theatre 5/2/10

Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s Sleeping Beauty @ Akron Civic Theatre 5/2/10

We drove up to Akron last weekend to watch Ballet Theater of Ohio’s SLEEPING BEAUTY. Producing a ballet that goes back to 1890 and has become identified with big production values, large cast, and some very challenging ballet dancing is an ambitious undertaking. But there was also a lot of local ballet history onstage.

The Executive Artistic Director of BTO, Christine Meneer, cut her professional teeth as a dancer with Ohio Ballet under the direction of her mentor, Heinz Poll. Like Poll, Meneer and company can put on a very satisfying repertory program, but unlike Poll, who abhorred story ballets, BTO’s main commitment is to big story ballets that bring out the families and friends of the young dancers.

That audience packed the Akron Civic Theater for the Sunday matinee we attended. It was easy to believe Meneer when she told us that BTO is “the Akron Civic Theater’s biggest client, drawing the top 2 largest audiences for any single event; we draw almost 20,000 people each year.”

With no family in BTO, we could say we were there to see the professional dancers, and it was a virtual old home week for dancers who had performed with Ohio Ballet under Poll’s successor, Jeffery Graham Hughes. We had greatly admired the dancing of the group Hughes assembled, so it was a special pleasure to see Andrea Blankstein, Grant Dettling, Damien Highfield, and Brian Murphy onstage together, all dancing very well.

We also had a good time watching BTO’s young, school-age dancers portraying fairy tale characters, palace pages, and woodland creatures. Cuteness is a given with performers in this age group. The trick is getting kids on and off the stage without mishap, giving them assignments that they can succeed with, and helping them have fun with their assignments so that the audience can enjoy the show. In this task, Meneer and company were spectacularly successful, creating funny, imaginative embroidery around the traditional outlines of the ballet.

We found the dancing of the 2 lead roles in BTO’s SLEEPING BEAUTY very satisfying to watch. Megan Coleman’s Lilac Fairy presided over the forces of goodness with an absolute authority that radiated from her mastery of the horrendous technical challenges of the traditional choreography. Andrea Blankstein as Princess Aurora also demonstrated technical mastery in the face of the traditional challenges but her performance was more notable for the sweet and youthful quality she seemed to project so effortlessly.

Toward the end of BTO’s version of SLEEPING BEAUTY there was a bit where young members of the audience waved lit up electric roses in rhythm to the music. Would Poll have writhed in his grave or would he have chuckled sardonically at the campiness of it all? This was not the ballet aesthetic that Poll pursued – but it clearly works for this BTO audience in greater Akron.

Ballet Theater of Ohio performed SLEEPING BEAUTY at the Akron Civic Theater on May 1 and 2, 2010.

From Cool Cleveland contributors Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas. Elsa and Vic are both longtime Clevelanders. Elsa is a landscape designer. She studied ballet as an avocation for 2 decades. Vic has been a dancer and dance teacher for most of his working life, performing in a number of dance companies in NYC and Cleveland. They write about dance as a way to learn more and keep in touch with the dance community. E-mail them at vicnelsaATearthlink.net.

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