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Minneapolis by Elizabeth Weir

Ballet of the Doll's Sleeping Beauty casts a jaded eye at modern life


Sleeping BeautyIn Ballet of the Dolls' innovative Sleeping Beauty, the eponymous princess awakens to a confusing contemporary world of haste, information overload and overt sexuality. Co-creators composer Craig Harris and choreographer Myron Johnson set an ingenuous princess dancing through a bewildering and emotionally charged series of vignettes in their reworked version of the classic fairy tale that takes a hard look at modern society.

The theater of this Sleeping Beauty begins in creative Dolls style well before the lights go down. To Harris's sound design of recorded voices that offer deconstruction of the words "beauty" and "sleep," dancers in night clothes escort patrons to front-row lounging couches.

The ballet opens on Michael de Leon's bare set, hung with light-reflecting plastic and a giant color wheel on the back wall. The Dolls tip their hat at the original fairy tale in a speedily danced recap of the king and queen wanting a child, having Beauty, and the baby being cursed by the bad fairy. This brief section closes with a prince hacking at dense undergrowth to get to her. Then the action shifts to the heart of this interpretation, her awakening.

Beauty sleeps in a glass display case in a museum, and Harris's very present sound design speaks of her dream anxieties against the noise of a clock, ticking in an empty room. A group of visitors, all plugged into museum earphones, dance out their response in vigorous movement to the princess's vital beauty and to too much information, until they become automaton-like. The museum closes and the stressed visitors leave. But three young men steal back, break open the glass case, setting off alarms and waking Beauty to make what she can of a world foreign to the long-ago world in which she was born.

Heather Cadigan's expressive Beauty emerges like a butterfly, awkward after her long pupation of sleep. She's stiff, her movements are jerky and doll-like and, in cleverly realized choreography, she practically tips out of the display case and into life.

Tall and decorous in an ankle-length white dress that flows with her body, Beauty careens from object to strange object, trying to make sense of what she sees, her stress evident in fraught body language and in repeated gestures of holding her head in her hands. In an amusing moment, she takes a pair of museum earphones and first fits them over her breasts, then tries them on as a hat, listens and hears distressing white noise.

Johnson paces the ballet at a fair clip and finesses the transitions from vignette to vignette by having dancers spin the great color wheel in a suggestion of passing time. Beauty encounters unseeing businessmen who stalk in modern dance mode, swirl, talk into cell phones and whose ant-like haste dehumanizes them. Soon, she's caught in a swirl of liquid dance in a fashion photo shoot of sexually emphatic clothes.

These people see her, frown at her old dress and refashion her, on stage, in the style of a '20s debutante. Self-conscious in her new garb, Beauty dances a lyrical pas de deux, with a chancer in a head scarf, to fractured shards of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty score. The dance is classical and lovely, the lifts almost seamless. But she's soon out in life again, being symbolically tossed around among three agile young men.

Johnson's choreography constantly surprises. In a witty little scene, a man and woman move in the manner of rewound film, played forwards and backwards. In another, Beauty encounters a mirror with look-a-likes who mirror her actions. Handed a mirror, Beauty drops it, pricks her finger on broken glass and sets in motion a modern rewind that circles her story back to its beginning.

En route, she revisits a frankly tongue-in-cheek childhood and young womanhood, and returns to her old-fashioned white dress. But it's sullied now by her experiences during her awakening, its hem smeared with dirt.

The ballet closes with the closing of the lid of Beauty's museum case, the collapse of three would-be rescuers beside it, and a voiceover that questions the fairy tale illusion that all will end happily ever after, once the princess marries the prince.

Some of the switches in the action are hard to divine, but precision dancing, ingenious choreography in tight ensemble work, and an inventive sound design are the marks of the Dolls' thought-provoking rewrite of Sleeping Beauty.

Sleeping Beauty May 16 - May 31. Thursdays, 7:00 p.m. Friday - Sunday 8:00 p.m. Front row couch seating $45 - $50, general seating $10 - $20. The Dance Factory, 820, 18th Avenue, Northeast Minneapolis. Call: 612-623-7660. For more information, visit balletofthedolls.org


Photo: Myron Johnson



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Elizabeth Weir



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