By Carrina Stanton / For the Chronicle
For 13-year-old McKenna Bryan, getting ready to dance in front of a live audience for the first time in over a year is both scary and exciting.
And it’s also a long-awaited rite of passage. A fifth-grade dancer, Bryan earned her pointe shoes in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all live shows across the state. When she takes the stage to dance the role 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 be able to show the results of her hard work to an audience in direct.
“I think the most exciting part is that we’re all able to come together for something like this,” Bryan said. “We have invested a lot in 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 one-time performance and tea party on May 16 at Red Barn Studios in Chehalis. This will be the first time the studio’s dancers have been able to perform live in over a year.
The show, which follows the classic ballet “Sleeping Beauty”, will feature 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 awakens 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). Throughout 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 live performance on May 16 was scheduled with Washington State’s Phase 2 COVID-19 reopening requirements so the event could go ahead whether Lewis County is 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 in total. Only full tables are sold for $300 each, rather than individual tickets. Tickets include the show for up to six people per table plus a full-service afternoon tea served by Joy’s Once Upon a Thyme.
A second public performance of the play is scheduled 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 presented as a “wedding” and attendees are invited to dress up as storybook characters. The $20 per person ticket includes the show and cupcakes at the “wedding reception” afterwards.
For the performance and tea on May 16, the tables will be set up in a circle around the dancers. Emmy Larson, 19, dancing the role of the Sapphire Jewel Fairy, said the setup meant much more complicated choreography to ensure every guest got the best view possible.
“It’s really nerve-wracking to be in front of a live audience again and then the audience will be seated around us, so there are a lot of directions to take,” Larson said.
But no matter how much work it took, dancers generally said they were thrilled to be able to take the stage again for real, live audiences. Beth Maurer, dancing as fairy godmother Flora, said she looked forward to a future date when they can dance in front of a full, mask-less audience, but she said even a smaller event was worth it. She praised local dance studios for thinking outside the box to continue creating opportunities for local dancers during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting projects such as “Nutcracker” and “Sleeping Beauty” filmed by the Ballet. Northwest of Olympia and Centralia Ballet Academy’s “Nutcracker,” which was released on Amazon streaming services in December and is still available to rent or purchase.
“They did a really good job tapping into their creativity to make sure some things could still happen,” Maurer said. “It’s not the same thing, but it allowed us to work together to create something beautiful, which is important.”
And while the dancers strove to get their moves right, there was a small group of people behind the scenes who worked just as hard to make sure they looked good when they took the stage. A completely new show means the need for new props and costumes, said Marisol Williams, and the parents of dancers like her have stepped up to make those things possible.
“We moms really pulled it all together to get all these talented people to perform,” Williams said. “I absolutely loved what everyone did.”
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 netting that extends straight from the hips in a gravity-defying display, Smith explained that the crepe tutu is considered by dancers to be one of the pinnacle of costume.
“These are really special,” Smith said. “You’ve done it when you get to wear one.”
It is a tradition among dance companies that dancers write their names and the dates they wore the costume inside the bodice of pancake tutus, and dancers consider it an honor to wear a costume. which has been worn by famous dancers. At Centralia Ballet Academy, these dancers will be the first to add their names inside these costumes. Smith said that if the tutus are cared for properly, they can last for many more names in the future.
“I could cut short but I don’t,” she said. “Bodices are very durable because we want them to last a long time.”
Williams said not being able to perform in public for an entire year really made them want to work harder to create costumes 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’ve really allowed for some wonderful, very creative artwork and I think it’s got us thinking about what we can do to bring something that’s only on paper to life,” Williams said.
Centralia Ballet Academy, Joy’s Once Upon a Thyme and Red Barn Studios present “The Sleeping Beauty Act III – Aurora’s Wedding Tea”
When: 11 a.m. May 16
Or: 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 scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on June 5 at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds South Stage. The performance is a “wedding” and the participants are invited to dress up as characters from tales. 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.
In line: centraliaballet.com or @CentraliaBalletAcademy on Facebook