Devon Carney is tired, but somehow he doesn’t look the part. Cincinnati Ballet's associate artistic director has been putting in roughly 16-hour days recently. All these efforts go toward the company’s upcoming production — ironically, The Sleeping Beauty.
When I playfully suggest he’d be a sleeping beauty when this is over, Carney chuckles and replies, “Boy, you are not kidding! Oh my word...”
In addition to choreographing (after Marius Petipa’s canonized 1890 original) and fast-paced, time-crunched rehearsals with the company and the rest of the cast, Carney has done extensive research on this classic full-length ballet, watching archival videos and more. Then there’s keeping up with day-to-day duties, e-mails and other work that comes with his role at the Ballet.
So does this dance world still feel like a dream for him?
“First of all, I am literally dreaming dance — I have been for weeks and weeks,” Carney says. “I’ve had these recurring nightmares, basically, of seeing steps that I think are supposed to be in Sleeping Beauty and seeing people that are supposed to be somewhere, but I can’t quite tell where. It’s bizarre. And it’s kept me from sleeping very well at all.”
He adds that the Ballet’s Wardrobe Mistress Diana Vandergriff has been reporting similar sleep disturbances; only for her, it’s all about costume concerns. Carney turns serious again as we pause, noticing strains of the Sleeping Beauty score soaring up from a studio downstairs and into the conference room.
“It is a dream,” he says, smiling. “It’s a wonderful dream come true to be able to do a Sleeping Beauty. I’ve always wanted to do it.”
Cincinnati Ballet Associate Artistic Director Devon Carney supervises the Oct. 14 "Ballet and Beer" dress rehearsal for The Sleeping Beauty. Photos by Cameron Knight.
And Cincinnati Ballet is doing it right: All of the elements are in place for The Sleeping Beauty to be presented as it originally was: a historic venue of essentially the same era as the ballet’s 1890 premiere, a live orchestra and a full company of strong dancers, plus talented students and supernumeraries rounding out the cast.
Supported by the Louise Dieterle Nippert Musical Arts Fund, the Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty performances take place at Music Hall.
“The fact that Louise Nippert gave this money is just a godsend,” Carney says. “It’s like all those things you hope for in being able to do a full-length, grand, classical ballet and not to have to worry about that musical side of it.”
Once Carney learned that The Sleeping Beauty would be at least one of the company’s productions this season taking place at Music Hall per the Nippert Fund, he was excited.
“I thought, ‘Oh, that’s awesome, because if there were ever a set that could have been built for Sleeping Beauty, Music Hall would be it,’ ” he says. “It’s an entire set. You step into the late 1870s, 1880s, basically.
“I can so easily picture all of these people dressed up to the nines going to see the opening of Sleeping Beauty in a theater similar (to Music Hall). ... I think it’s really cool.”
Carney says it was a “lovely accident” that the set pieces actually match Music Hall’s décor, with crimsons and gold. The audience should feel even more drawn into the production, as if they’re actually a part of the wedding scene onstage.
“When you’re dealing with a ballet that’s pretty well-known, it’s important to keep a hold on to the tradition as much as possible and try to establish the style of the time,” Carney says.
But he doesn’t want to do a piece that’s “strictly museum.”
“I’m not saying I don’t want to allow the 21st century to come into play, because that’s the world we live in,” he says.
Changes over the past 120 years since The Sleeping Beauty’s premiere abound among the dancers and the ballet. Despite the technical prowess many 21st-century dancers possess, a great deal of education must take place to refine certain movements, subtle details of body positions — even standing properly — to more accurately portray the style of the era. Carney becomes animated as he describes some finer points of the technique: keeping their arms lower, longer arabesques and so on.
“That little tilt of the head out to the side — it’s a beautiful, stylized thing,” he says. “Nobody teaches that. The only place you’re gonna do it is if you’re in a rehearsal and you’re doing that kind of ballet. So when you say, ‘Put your right ear into it,’ you (need to) know what that means.”
Also, unlike the first few decades of the last century, most dancers no longer come from a theatrical or vaudeville background, so they must learn theatrical timing.
“(Dancers from the past) had that whole ‘Ha-CHAHH!’ They knew how to sell it, and not in a tacky way,” Carney says. “It’s something that takes a lot longer to teach somebody today.”
Overall, Carney feels the Cincinnati Ballet company is in a good place — literally.
“Putting that all in Music Hall is gonna be great,” he says. “It’s quite a nice aligning of the stars, you might say.”
And he’ll be getting some beauty sleep under those stars.
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY is presented by Cincinnati Ballet in four performances Friday-Sunday at Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.