When ballerina Elizabeth Barreto was a little girl, dancing at her mom’s studio in La Grande, Ore., she would sit in front of the television and watch her mom’s collection of dance VHS tapes when she wasn’t in class.
Her favorite was the Royal Ballet’s 1980s production of “The Sleeping Beauty,” one of the biggest of the big classical story ballets. It starred Viviana Durante, who was famous for her interpretation of the title role.
“When I was a kid, it was my favorite thing ever,” she says. “I would watch it all the time.”
So, it’s no surprise that it was the first thing Barreto went back to when she found out she would dance the role of Princess Aurora in this production of the Tchaikovsky ballet. Artistic Director Peter Anastos created this staging, which Ballet Idaho first danced in 2011.
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It’s a dream role that fits her personality, she says.
“She’s supposed to be 16 for the majority of her dancing, and I’m just a very bubbly person naturally,” Barreto says. “I guess it’s either very easy or very natural for me to become this princess. Then in the third act, after she’s been asleep for 100 years and she’s getting married, she’s suddenly a woman. She’s regal and stately, and that’s a nice change.”
This is Barreto’s fourth time performing the role. She did three student productions. This is her first time doing the full-length ballet — and that’s like running a marathon, and not just because of the demanding physicality. It’s about building a character through nuance and style, and that takes study and coaching. She’s working with Anastos and ballet master Alex Ossadnik, and watching other recordings of dancers’ performances to create her Aurora.
“The actual steps we do in class every day,” she says. “We put them together in specific ways, and then it’s a matter of really practicing.”
But it’s the moments in between the steps that will make the role hers.
“I’m looking for the transitions of the arms and positions of the head,” she says. “Those are the things that aren’t really taught. You know what the next step is, but it’s up to you how you get there.”
Landing this plum role is a coup for Barreto, 26, but it doesn’t come out of nowhere. She’s been on a progression toward this moment since moving to Idaho from Anaheim Ballet four years ago. In March, she danced the lead role, with partner Daniel Ojeda, in the company’s performance of Balanchine’s “Valse Fantasie.”
She truly dazzled in that role. Now, she’s up for this challenge.
The most difficult part of the ballet for Aurora is the Rose Adage in the first act. It’s considered one of the hardest dances in all of ballet.
On her 16th birthday, Aurora is being courted by four princes.
“You have to partner with four different guys and do turns with each,” she says. “Who knows how it’s going to work? And it’s all basically balancing on your right leg. If you don’t hold it, you’ve basically ruined the ballet, so no pressure,” she says laughing.
While she balances, each suitor hands her a rose and then promenades her around — that means they turn while she holds her one position, like the ballerina on top of a music box.
“Adrenaline helps,” she says. “But a lot of it is mental for me. It’s feeling completely calm when I let go of one hand and take the next one. That’s where it can go wrong. If you let any doubt into your mind, you’re done.”
The legendary choreographer Marius Petipa created the first “Sleeping Beauty” in the latter part of the 19th century based on Charles Perrault’s fairy tale. Much of the choreography for any production of “The Sleeping Beauty” today stems from his steps. For it, Tchaikovsky wrote arguably his best ballet score. Together, they created the standard for the art form. (The music also is very familiar to many people because Walt Disney used it for his 1959 animated film.)
The ballet’s story follows the fairy tale of baby princess Aurora, who is cursed to prick her finger on a spindle and die on her 16th birthday. Fortunately, the Lilac Fairy swoops in and softens the curse, saying that Princess Aurora will only fall into a deep sleep to be awakened by the kiss of true love.
For Barreto, that happens with her longtime friend and dancer Andrew Taft, who dances the role of the prince who awakens Aurora in the third act. Together, they dance the dynamic and beautiful Wedding Pas de Deux.
“I’m so happy to be doing it with Andrew,” she says. “We’ve done a lot of guesting at other ballet companies together, so we’re super comfortable with each other. It’s just fun.”
Ballet Idaho’s ‘The Sleeping Beauty’
8 p.m. Friday, April 8, and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 9, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. $38-$58. 343-0556, ext. 220; balletidaho.org.