For McKenna Bryan, 13, preparing to dance in front of a live audience for the first time in more than a year is both scary and exciting.
And it is also a long overdue rite of passage. A fifth-year dancer, Bryan earned her pointe shoes in February 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic closed all live performances across the state. When she takes the stage to dance the part of the Silver Jewel Fairy at Centralia Ballet Academy’s “The Sleeping Beauty Act III – Aurora’s Wedding Tea” on May 16, she will finally get to show the results of her hard work to a live audience.
“I think the most exciting part is we’re all able to come together for something like this,” Bryan said. “We’ve put a lot into it. It’s going to be pretty amazing.”
Centralia Ballet Academy, along with Joy’s Once Upon a Thyme and Red Barn Studios, will present “The Sleeping Beauty Act III – Aurora’s Wedding Tea” for a special one-time performance and tea May 16 at Red Barn Studios in Chehalis. It will be the first time the studio’s dancers have been able to put on a live performance for more than a year.
The show, which follows the classic “The Sleeping Beauty” ballet, will present the wedding of Princess Aurora (danced by Jenova Williams) and her prince (danced by Nathan Crummett). Officiating the wedding, which takes place after the prince has awakened Aurora from her slumber, are Aurora’s Fairy Godmothers Flora (danced by Beth Maurer), Fauna (danced by Lynn Gear) and Merryweather (danced by Lisa Weber). Through the story, audience members will also get to meet other fairy tale characters such as Little Red Riding Hood (danced by Jamiah Wood); The Wolf (danced by Michael Northcutt); Puss in Boots (danced by Jacob Mecham); and the White Cat (danced by Caitlyn Rose).
The May 16 live performance was planned with Washington state COVID-19 reopening Phase 2 requirements so the event could proceed regardless of whether Lewis County was in Phase 2 or Phase 3 when the event occurred. Dancers will be masked and air purifiers will be used. The audience will be limited to 72 people total. Only full tables are being sold for $300 each, rather than individual tickets. Tickets include the performance for up to six people per table and also a full-service tea catered by Joy’s Once Upon a Thyme.
A second public performance of the piece is planned for June 5 on the South Stage of the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds. Individual tickets will be available for the June 5 event. The event at the fairgrounds is being billed as a “wedding” and attendees are asked to dress up as storybook characters. The $20 per person ticket includes the performance and cupcakes at the “wedding reception” afterward.
For the May 16 performance and tea, tables will be configured in a circle around the dancers. Emmy Larson, 19, dancing the part of the Sapphire Jewel Fairy, said the configuration has meant much more complicated choreography to ensure that every guest gets the best view possible.
“It’s definitely nerve-wracking to be in front of a live audience again and then the audience will be seated around us, so it’s a lot of directions to remember,” Larson said.
But no matter the work it has taken, dancers by and large said they were excited to be able to take a stage again for a real, live audience. Beth Maurer, dancing the part of the Fairy Godmother Flora, said she is looking forward to a future date when they can dance for a full audience and without masks, but she said even a smaller event was worth it. She praised local dance studios for thinking outside the box to continue to create opportunities for local dancers during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting projects such as Ballet Northwest of Olympia’s filmed “Nutcracker” and “Sleeping Beauty” and Centralia Ballet Academy’s own “Nutcracker,” which was released on Amazon streaming services in December and is still available to rent or buy.
“They’ve done a really good job tapping into their creative juices to make certain things could still happen,” Maurer said. “It’s not the same, but it’s been keeping us working together to create something beautiful, which is important.”
And while dancers have been working to get their moves just right, there has been a small group of behind-the-scenes folks working equally hard to make sure they look good when they take the stage. A completely new show means the need for new props and costumes, said Marisol Williams, and parents of the dancers like her have stepped up to make those things possible.
“All of us moms have really pulled it together for all these talented people to perform,” Williams said. “I really loved what everybody has done.”
Volunteer seamstress Emily Smith said she believes she has sewn a total of eight new costumes, including creating six pancake tutus in two months. Featuring tulle fabric and net that extends straight out from the hips in a gravity-defying display, Smith explained that the pancake tutu is considered by dancers one of the pinnacles of costuming.
“These are really special,” Smith said. “You’ve made it when you get to wear one.”
It is a tradition among dance companies for dancers to write their names and the dates they wore the costume inside the bodice of the pancake tutus, and dancers consider it an honor to wear a costume that has been worn by famous dancers. At Centralia Ballet Academy, these dancers will be the first to add their names to the inside of these costumes. Smith said if the tutus are cared for properly, they can last for many more names in the future.
“I could shortcut but I don’t,” she said. “The bodices are heavy duty because we want them to last a long time.”
Williams said not being able to perform in public for a whole year really pushed them to want to work harder to create costuming and props that will wow audiences. She praised Centralia Ballet Academy owners Mick and Nancy Gunter for allowing volunteers to follow their creative instincts and try new things to bring the magic of these stories to the stage.
“They have really allowed for some wonderful and very creative artwork and I think it’s pushed us to think what can we do to bring something that is only on paper to life,” Williams said.
Centralia Ballet Academy, Joy’s Once Upon a Thyme and Red Barn Studios Presents “The Sleeping Beauty Act III – Aurora’s Wedding Tea”
When: 11 a.m. May 16
Where: Red Barn Studios, 207 Goff Road, Chehalis
Tickets: $300 per table of six. Tables can be purchased by calling (360) 623-9010
More information: A second show is planned for 6:30 p.m. June 5 at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds South Stage. The performance is a “wedding” and attendees are asked to dress up as storybook characters. There will be cupcakes at the reception. Tickets are $20 and will be available for purchase on the Centralia Ballet Academy website starting next week.
Online: centraliaballet.com or @CentraliaBalletAcademy on Facebook