Hello all–this is Nicole, media intern with Ballet Fantastique. I’m here to do a little debriefing about Arabian Nights, my first performance experience with BFan.
On January 28th, Ballet Fantastique transported audiences to a mystical land in their premiere of Donna and Hannah Bontrager’s Arabian Nights. With the Hult Center house completely sold out well over a week before the show opened and a splashy front-page Register Guard cover story hyping the all-original production, BFan told six ancient tales full of fantasy and adventure through story, dance, and music. The performance did not disappoint these high expectations–it was absolutely captivating.
But while the show went off without a hitch, it is only because of the hours that cast and crew spent rehearsing and preparing. I wanted to do a little behind-the-scenes research into the process of making it all happen here, in my first BFan blog post.
Here’s just a taste of what I uncovered:
Ballet Fantastique wanted to take these famous historical tales and add their own twist to the story. As Hannah Bontrager noted, “The most difficult part was to know where to start with so much material, and trusting our instinct to use all new music instead of the traditional Scheherazade score by Rimsky-Korosokov. I’m really proud of the unique way we interpreted the ancient stories to [create] a completely original ballet!” Dancers pushed themselves to physical and emotionally exhausting limits when they practiced six days a week (and 13 days straight in the week before the show) for as many as six to eight hours a day.
As I also found out, Donna decided to challenge the BFan dancers to try new feats. One of the dancers, Ashley, commented on the relatively new experience of performing an incredibly difficult pas de deux: “One of the lifts that we worked on that was the scariest was pretty much a hand stand in the air, when I was suspended upside down into the air on Adam’s shoulders. Any lift is hard because you have to be really aggressive and can’t hesitate. I don’t have a lot of prior partnering experience, so for me it was about letting go and trusting my partner.”
It seems evident from the success of the show that all of the dancers were indeed able to let go and completely immerse themselves in their characters. The dancers had the task of combining their roles as an actor and dancer in this, BFan’s first full-length dramatic ballet (heretofore, BFan’s full-length narrative works have all been romantic comedies). As Amelia, who danced the parts of the Queen in the Scheherazade frame narrative and the Wise Woman in the Tale of Princess Parizade, related: “I absolutely love meshing my dancing and acting skills. In fact, I believe that as a dancer, you must be able to act and get lost in the role that you are portraying. Being the queen was a blast because Iable to be dark and mischievous, yet regal, when I wouldn’t usually describe myself with any of those words.”
Put all of this innovation, hard work, gutsiness, and drama together with costumes to kill for, incredible technique, and stunning creativity—and you get an absolutely mesmerizing performance that transported us all away from a gray January Oregon night into the exotic world of Ballet Fantastique’s Arabian Nights.
Can’t wait for Cinderella: A Rock Opera Ballet this May! I heard that Hannah and Donna are already working hard with musical collaborators Shelley and Cal. More to come. Hope you have your tickets before this one sells out!