Creating A Story Ballet

At the dance school where I am currently teaching, as in most area dance schools, there is a performance at the end of every year that includes all the styles of dance we teach at the school. The ballet classes are a bit separate from the other classes in the performance, where as, all the ballet classes from Novice level on up are part of a story ballet. This is one my favorite things about teaching there.

After I present my thoughts and ideas to the studio director, I am given full control over my creativity. I am able to select who I chose would be the most appropriate dancer for each character in the story. I am able to select my story and who the lead dancers will be. With this said, and my creativity usually working over time, the final performance of the story ballet each year, is about twenty minutes of stage time.

During my employment, the dancers and I created two story ballets. Beauty and The Beast and Aladdin. With the story line and musical scores from the Disney versions so as to make it easier for the audience to follow. The classes blend together without necessarily stopping for applause between each edited piece of music to allow for a smooth flow of the story. Editing the music is not my forte, that job goes and needs to be credited to my daughter, who is also a dancer in our story ballets. This year’s challenge is The Sleeping Beauty. We will also be presenting this year an additional ten minute story ballet called Oz.

Selecting the dancers for the lead characters is always a challenge. My hope each year is that I do not offend any of the dancers in my charge. The dancers are told from the beginning, that, the dancer needs to fit the character first and the choreography will fit the dancer. Another piece of criteria that aids in my selection of “who is who” in the ballet is the dancer’s technique and the dancer’s dedication to her art. Those are the dancers who I try to fit into the lead characters first. As at all dance schools, there are those who come because it is in their heart and soul to dance and there are those who come because dance is just something to do after school. This is where dedication plays its part.

I love working with dedicated dancers in their solo class times. It brings such a lift to my day working with a dancer who will keep going until she gets it right, using what has been pounded into her of correct dance technique. This is my prize, this is my trophy, to see a wonderful dance student trying her hardest to get it “perfect”!

The biggest challenge, for me, of putting together a story ballet versus just a 3 minute ballet piece, is costuming. Although we dance teachers receive countless costume catalogs each year, just the right costumes never seem to be in any of them! Well, at least what we can afford. When a choreographer puts together her story ballet she is thinking certain styles of costumes. Hours and hours are spent trying to find just the right ones. This chore begins in July and continues until mid October! With me, I am very fussy as to what my characters represent. They need to portray exactly what I am thinking or I don’t sleep at night! Sometimes, just that right costume is never found and needs to be made. Here is where I am just not that handy. Fortunately, the school director’s mom is. God bless her. She comes to the rescue every time!

The next challenge is scenery. Here is where I am worthless! I know what I want, but I don’t have the imagination to reproduce it. This is where my daughter jumps in, again. As a homeschooler, we used an art program called Meet The Masters. She learned, over the years, so many art techniques through this program that come in handy in the design of the props and scenery we need. She will be double busy this year with 2 story ballets planned for our 2013 revue! What she can’t due because of possible heavier construction needed, the school director’s dad comes to the rescue. Prop and scenery construction eventually takes over the back end, the storage end, of the dance school and we are soon very crowed back there. Especially this year with our Christmas show under way.

With all this said, a story ballet teaches the dancers what it can be like, on a small scale, to be in a ballet company. Talent, dedication and creativity is all it takes, from the choreographer, dancers, music editors, seamstresses and the prop and scenery designers and constructors. Even with a short twenty minute or ten minute story ballet, there are many hands involved, but those who are working at it are just so blessed when it is produced. To see the smiles on the stage and the smiles in the audience is the best part!

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