The National Ballet of Canada's newest production comes to life on the stage, as well as behind it.
When you experience something as magical as the National Ballet of Canada’s The Sleeping Beauty, you’re likely taking many aspects of the production for granted. From wigs and costumes to choreography all the way up to the magnificent set design—the details are kept hidden from the public to encourage the illusion that the magic happens on the stage alone. Fortunately, Torontoist was invited behind the curtain: we embarked on an exclusive backstage tour during Sleeping Beauty’s dress rehearsal this past Friday evening.
From the Four Seasons Centre’s stage doors, we were led down maze-like halls past dressing and makeup rooms. As was to be expected, the atmosphere was filled with pre-show excitement. Production managers stepped in and out of elevators, while performers carrying pointe shoes in one arm and costumes in the other brushed past us. This was the final rehearsal before Saturday’s opening, and it would be the first performance to bring together lighting, costumes, orchestra, and sets. In the final hour before the show, backstage was bristling with movement.
We were taken first to wardrobe, where last-minute stitches were being added to some of the costumes, and then to makeup, where several wigs were being adjusted. (Fun fact: A regular wig takes about 40 hours to make; the longest it’s ever taken National Ballet wigmakers is 72 hours.)
It was here that our photographer was slightly shamed for innocently telling the lead to “break a leg.” While common lingo in the acting world, it’s actually considered bad luck to say this to a dancer. As it turns out, the correct protocol is actually to say merde (French for “shit”).
Next, we were led to the most draw-dropping stop on the tour: the wings. Though audiences will be treated to the full glory of the set pieces as they appear on the stage itself, there is something sublime about seeing so many moving pieces sliding back and forth while performers crisscross between them (alas, we were prohibited from taking pictures during proceedings due to union regulations). The wings area almost resembles a type of warehouse, with pop-up dressing rooms (for performers who have to make quick costume changes during acts) and towering set pieces that, while built for the 1972 Sleeping Beauty premiere at the O’Keefe Centre, have been continuously updated and showcase the exquisite detail that has gone into this production.
During our time in the wings, we met up with a few of the show’s “supers” (or “supernumeraries”), who discussed their love for participating in such large-scale productions. For the uninitiated, supers are volunteer extras who act to fill space on stage and increase the overall production value. They don’t dance, but they do have numerous movement cues. According to the super we spoke to, getting to dress up in such great costumes is more than enough compensation for their time.
Before long the rehearsal was underway. Though it did include a few hiccups (a microphoned “voice of God” would occasionally tell performers that they were in the wrong spots)—which it’s why it’s a rehearsal—the performance was excellent. Veteran principal dancer Greta Hodgkinson was warmly welcomed to the stage in her role as Princess Aurora, as was guest dancer Evan McKie, who is making his hometown debut as the Prince.
Most dress rehearsals don’t have an audience, but this one hosted a sizeable crowd, made up mostly of sponsors and donors—a special thank you. If the rave reviews that The Sleeping Beauty has been receiving since the ballet opened are any indication, audiences at the official performances won’t be walking away disappointed, either.