For the 25th anniversary of the University Musical Society’s lauded dance series, something special was in order. Fortunately for them, and for local audiences, the perfect opportunity presented itself when American Ballet Theatre announced it would be going on tour with Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty.”
There could hardly be a better time for the performance. American Ballet Theatre appeared in the headlines last year when they appointed the legendary Misty Copeland as a principal ballerina, the first Black woman to ever win that position in the United States. The audiences on Friday and Saturday will even get the opportunity to see Copeland dance in a minor role.
And during the gray, somber end of March, many on campus are craving an escape from the drudgery of work and studies. “Sleeping Beauty” promises to be one of the most lavish productions the area has seen in recent years, featuring an exquisite set, period costumes and an enormous number of performers. Bringing a huge, luxurious production here was far from easy, as Jim Leija, UMS’s director of education and community engagement, can attest.
“It’s also a really big collaboration between UMS and the Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit,” Leija said. “We don’t really have a stage or venue that’s big enough to do this kind of classical production in Ann Arbor.”
The collaboration, which will continue in future productions, worked out beautifully for both partners, resulting in stellar production values that stay true to the show’s original production in New York City.
“It’s a really beautiful production. It’s quite lavish,” Leija said. “There are something like 200 people in the performance, and about half of them are from the local community.”
In the weeks leading up to the production, American Ballet Theater has participated in community workshops and other engagement events with UMS. Dancers led master classes at the University of Michigan as well as at Wayne State University and Oakland University, and Detroit high schoolers even had the opportunity to “meet the artists,” Leija said. They also visited the Ann Arbor YMCA to lead a “You Can Dance” collaboration with adults of all ages interested in movement, dance and expression.
The dazzling show runs through Sunday, the culmination of years of planning and months of preparation for UMS, Michigan Opera Theatre and American Ballet Theatre. Then the ballet will hit the road, bringing their fantasy of slumbering royals and magical kisses across the country. But the promising partnership between UMS and Michigan Opera Theatre, beginning with this impressive high note, will continue in the coming years.