By Steve Sucato
What better way to introduce children and new audiences to ballet than with abridged versions of two of its classics. At least that is the thinking behind Olmsted Performing Arts’ Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake Double Feature, July 17-19 at the 1000-seat Olmsted Performing Arts Center in Olmsted Falls, Ohio.
Part of the OPA’s Ballet Series, the hourlong versions are the creations of OPA Ballet director and former Saint Louis Ballet dancer Janet Strukely-Dziak. Using traditional choreography and some of her own creation, Strukely-Dziak condensed each multi-act ballet into a single act. No easy feat, the project meant piecing together scenes, movement phrases and music to create considerably shortened versions of each ballet whose storylines, dancing and inherent beauty still held up. One way she accomplished this was by adding narration to each ballet.
“It was really important to me to have audiences understand the stories,” says Strukely-Dziak. “That lack of understanding is what I think scares people off of ballet.”
Her hope is that with the inclusion of narration along with shortening each and making it very clear through the dancing and acting what is transpiring, that each ballet’s storyline will be easily understood.
While accessibility for audiences was one important motivation for the shortened ballets, another was the inclusion of OPA Dance Academy students and others from neighboring studios including Jillian Rian’s Dance School, Jam Dance Academy, Rock City Dance and Dancexcel, introducing these young dancers to the classics.
“There are not a lot of classical story ballets being performed in the Cleveland-area anymore,” says Strukely-Dziak. “My goal is to bring ballet to the west side suburbs of Cleveland where the only thing people are exposed to are recitals and Nutcracker productions.”
OPA’s program will kick off with The Sleeping Beauty. Based on author Charles Perrault’s fairytale of the cursed princess Aurora who falls asleep for 100-years waiting to be awoken by a prince’s kiss, the ballet originally choreographed by Marius Petipa premiered in 1890. Set to music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Strukely-Dziak’s fun, lighthearted version will feature a cast of the aforementioned students (ages 6 and up) along with advanced level students, college dancers and guest professionals including Mercyhurst University graduate Kathryn Tokar as Princess Aurora, Matt Huefner as Prince Desire, Elizabeth Radachi as the Lilac Fairy and former Dancing Wheels dancer Melaina Kampf as the evil fairy Carabosse (a.k.a. Maleficent). It will be narrated by actor/dancer Josh Landis in the role of Catalabutte.
For the avid ballet-goer interested in a higher level of technical dancing, OPA Ballet’s abridged version of Swan Lake will feature a cast made up of only advanced student dancers and professionals including Strukely-Dziak in the dual lead role of Odette/Odile. She will be partnered by Saint Louis Ballet dancer Clayton Cunningham as Prince Siegfried. Based on the 1895 revival of the ballet by Petipa and Lev Ivanov and set to music by Tchaikovsky, the ballet tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart’s curse and whose love for Siegfried knows no bounds. A 16-member swan corps along with beautiful sets and costumes all add to this shortened yet traditional ballet experience.
A 32-year-old mother of two, Strukely-Dziak says it has been a challenge juggling teaching ballet, raising two small children and the demands of staying in shape as a freelance professional dancer. Add to that re-working two ballet classics. Despite all that Strukely-Dziak says she enjoys what she is doing as do several other area professionals in the cast who are young mothers.
So whether you are new to ballet, are looking to introduce your children to ballet classics, or a ballet aficionado, OPA’s Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake Double Feature is sure to have a little something for everyone.
Olmsted Performing Arts Ballet Series presents Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake Double Feature, 7:30 p.m., Friday, July 17, 2:30 p.m. (Special kids show Sleeping Beauty only. Kids receive princess hair updo, snack, and dance lesson.) and 7:30 p.m., Saturday, July 18, and 2:30 p.m., Sunday, July 19. Olmsted Performing Arts Center, 6941 Columbia Rd., Olmsted Falls, Ohio. $15-20. (440) 235-6722 or olmstedperformingarts.com. Pre-Show Event “Art of Ballet,” 90-minutes before each performance, local artists display works of dancers, attendees get to come watch warm-up onstage.