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The Beauty and Her Prince

Ballet Tucson closes its first pro season with a family-friendly classic

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After 100 years of separate solitude, Sleeping Beauty and her Prince, Désiré, were together at long last one afternoon last week, dancing their grand wedding pas de deux.

But Sleeping Beauty, otherwise known as Princess Aurora, was in leg warmers and a practice tutu, the Prince in cut-off sweats and a cotton turtleneck. The lovebirds were leaping and jetéing in a dance studio, not a grand palace, and they were not actually getting married.

They were rehearsing the nuptial finale of Sleeping Beauty, the full-length classic ballet that Ballet Tucson will stage at Centennial Hall this weekend.

Still, the lovestruck royals, principal dancers Jenna Johnson and Daniel Precup, could have been practicing for their own fairy-tale wedding. The longtime dance partners, veterans of ballet companies in Oakland and in Precup's native Romania, will marry for real this July in Cincinnati, Johnson's hometown.

"They're engaged," said a beaming Mary-Beth Cabana, Ballet Tucson's artistic director. She spoke while the dance stars took a break on the sidelines, where Precup lovingly massaged the shoulders of his intended. And if visa problems or exorbitant airfares prevent the Precup clan from convening in Ohio for the celebration, Cabana may very well step in as Precup's honorary dance mother, she said.

Cabana can't claim credit for the romance, but she did bring the two dancers to Tucson last fall, to star in her newly professional company. After 18 years, Ballet Tucson went pro for its 19th season, with a team of some 10 paid dancers working along with the advanced students and kids of the Ballet Arts studio.

"So far, so good," Cabana said of the new venture. "Our other shows have gone well. We're seeing progress."

The season opened with a brand-new Dracula--with Precup as the vampire and Johnson as his beloved victim--and it's closing with a sumptuous Sleeping Beauty, the ballet considered the epitome of 19th-century classicism.

"There are 135 dancers in the production," Cabana said. "It's on the scale of The Nutcracker."

All 10 of the company pros will dance, along with the studio kids. Advanced students joining the professionals in featured roles include Margaret Mullin, Megan Terry and Jennifer Nichols dancing the Pas de Six, and Hailey McNelis, Selina Ginn, Erica Alvarado and Cyndell Radcliff portraying the Jewel Fairies.

The costumes, still getting last-minute tweaks last week in the studio lobby from a crew of company seamstresses, are suitably lavish. Hanging on a rack was the Prince's tunic jacket in crushed red velvet. Stacked in a pile were white satin dresses for the Jewel Fairies, encrusted with glass beads in sapphire blue, emerald green and ruby red.

"It's all fairy-tale style," Cabana said.

The equally intricate sets conjure up, by turn, a throne room, a garden and a magical forest that grows for 100 years.

"There's a beautiful palace garden with a backdrop, portals, awnings," Cabana said. "The christening scene is in the throne room, with drapes and an elaborate bassinet."

During the century of Aurora's magical sleep, "the princess is in her bedroom, and an overgrowth of vines is coming in. The vines have protective thorns so that only her true love can come in."

Danced to the now-familiar score by Tchaikovsky, the ballet debuted in 1890 in St. Petersburg. The original choreographer, Marius Petipa, paid homage to his native France by including traditional court dances and by basing the story on an 18th-century tale by his compatriot Perrault. The trouble begins when the King and Queen neglect to invite a powerful fairy to their daughter's christening. The Bad Fairy--renamed Carabosse in the ballet and danced by Deanna Doncsecz--shows up anyway and condemns the little girl to die on her 16th birthday. The Lilac Fairy (Melanie Hawkes) softens the punishment by decreeing the girl will simply fall into a deep sleep for 100 years, only to be awakened by her true love.

Petipa tweaked the story somewhat, adding new scenes to showcase virtuoso ballet dancing. At the inevitable wedding, he added a Bluebird pas de deux (Peter Greene and Meredith Dulaney) and assorted fairy-tale characters who dance divertissements. The Ballet Tucson version, choreographed after Petipa by Cabana, assistant artistic director Chieko Imada and resident choreographer Mark Schneider, includes a dancing Snow White and her seven dwarves, Little Red Riding Hood treading a measure with the Wolf, as well as Cinderella, her Prince Fortune and Puss 'n' Boots.

"It's a lot of fun, very family-friendly," Cabana said.

The original consists of a prologue and three full acts. The Ballet Tucson version keeps the prologue but compresses the rest into two acts, coming in at about two hours.

"The trend among ballet companies now is to do it in two acts," Cabana explained. "The Bolshoi and Kirov do wonderful versions in three, but three acts are so long. We trimmed unnecessary material. We tried to be true to the classical ballet but to keep it well-paced."

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