'Sleeping Beauty' finds ballet back at Music Hall

'Sleeping Beauty' finds ballet back at Music Hall

By David Lyman • Enquirer contributor • October 18, 2010


For many ballet lovers, it was blasphemy.

In 1995, the Cincinnati Ballet abandoned Music Hall, the city's beloved arts palace, in favor of the then-new Aronoff Center. The company cited economic considerations, better availability of dates and a broader range of amenities for audience members.

Some never forgave the company. But the company survived. And audiences found their way to the Aronoff.

But next weekend, when Cincinnati Ballet premieres Devon Carney's "The Sleeping Beauty," it will be at Music Hall, if only for a weekend.

Once again, economic considerations are at the heart of the decision.

Last December, Louise Nippert announced a gift of $85 million - the Louise Dieterle Nippert Musical Arts Fund - intended to preserve music of the highest quality in Greater Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was the primary beneficiary. But some of the money was earmarked to assist the Cincinnati Ballet in its efforts to continue performing with a live orchestra.

There were guidelines, though. Among them, the live music had to be performed by members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and that those performances would take place in Music Hall.

Thus, when the ballet company debuts choreographer Devon Carney's "The Sleeping Beauty" on Friday, it will be on the Music Hall stage, the first time the company has performed there since its production of "Nutcracker" left after the 2006 season.

Carney can't wait.

"Music Hall and 'Sleeping Beauty' are from exactly the same era," says Carney, the Cincinnati Ballet's associate artistic director. (Music Hall opened in 1878, "The Sleeping Beauty" debuted in 1890.) "Just look at the inside of Music Hall - architecturally, it's as if the entire theater was built as a set for this ballet."

Performing at Music Hall is different, though. Some of it is purely technical. For the box office, for instance, it has meant finding comparable seats for subscribers as they move back and forth from one theater to the other. (Even more complicated is making sure that subscribers are aware of the change in venue.)

For the dancers, the differences are less tangible. The two stages are roughly the same size. But the houses - where the audience sits - couldn't be more different. Music Hall is immense. And much of the audience sits farther from the stage, meaning that dancers' facial expressions need to be more pronounced.

For some, the transition is likely to be a snap.

"Doing these performances at Music Hall will be like going back home again," says Carmon DeLeone, the ballet's longtime music director. DeLeone spent 12 years in Music Hall as the assistant and resident conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony. "It's all so familiar to me - the carpet on the floor, the dressing rooms, everything."

Does this have any long-term significance for the ballet? Does it mean that the company will eventually return to Music Hall?

"It's hard to say," says Victoria Morgan, the ballet's artistic director. "We're looking at this as a transitional situation."

With a $100 million, 15-month renovation scheduled to begin in May 2012, Music Hall may become a more viable home for at least a portion of the ballet's subscription seasons.

"When the renovation is completed, we'll be at Music Hall every time we use the CSO," Morgan says. "But for our performances that feature smaller, more intimate ballets, Music Hall isn't really the best venue. I can imagine a time when three of our six programs every year would be at Music Hall."

And "Nutcracker," which left Music Hall in 2007?

"It's a little premature to discuss that," Morgan says. "Nutcracker" moved to the Aronoff because the ballet hadn't been able to secure enough weekend dates at Music Hall. It's hard to imagine that changing in a revitalized Music Hall. But then, if the CSO were in the pit, that could change everything."

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