5 New and Reimagined Story Ballets Hitting the Stage in April

April 1, 2022

Story ballets take center stage this month, including five premieres that offer fresh spins on familiar classics or bring new narratives to light. Read on to learn more about these innovative productions and the creative minds behind them.

Louisville Ballet’s Mid-Century Sleeping Beauty

A ballerina is photographed from the shoulders up in a promotional ad for the ballet "The Sleeping Beauty." She wears a jeweled tiara around her high bun, and reaches up to smell a bouquet of flowers that hangs down towards her face. She closes her eyes as if taking in the small of roses.
Courtesy Louisville Ballet

Louisville Ballet presents resident choreographer Adam Hougland’s mid-century-inspired Sleeping Beauty March 31–April 2, complete with pop art, colorful wigs and glamorous costumes. In his contemporary and often humorous take on the classic story, Hougland gives Aurora’s character more agency—she dances with more strength and independence and even sleeps suspended upright to indicate a position of power. Costumer Alex Ludwig’s designs are influenced by Christian Dior, Salvador Dalí and Elsa Schiaparelli. (The Fairy of Laughter, for example, draws from I Love Lucy with a big red bow for “wings.”) Scenic designer Marion Williams adds a Roy Lichtenstein–inspired painting and Dutch floral backdrops to the sets.

American Repertory Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Gillian Murphy poses in first arabesque on pointe with her left leg lifted behind her and turns her face to look front with a proud expression. She wears a shiny, turquoise dance dress with a pleated skirt and a green velvet cape, which billows dramatically behind her.
Gillian Murphy as Oberon in Ethan Stiefel’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Harald Schrader, courtesy ARB

April 1–3, American Repertory Ballet presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream, artistic director Ethan Stiefel’s first full-length for the company. The production includes a number of modern elements, most notably that the role of Oberon, traditionally a male character, will be danced by a ballerina (including American Ballet Theatre principal Gillian Murphy, ARB’s associate artistic director, at certain performances). Stiefel altered the role to heighten the dramatic tension between Titania and Oberon, with maternal instincts driving their quarrel over the Changeling character. Stiefel has also added elves and made the Changeling a featured dancing role. The ballet also integrates supplementary music written for film by late composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold that will complement Mendelssohn’s original score, arranged and performed live by the Princeton Symphony Orchestra.

Collage Dance Collective’s New Firebird

A ballerina dressed in a firebird costume, brown tights and brown pointe shoes is lifted aloft into the air by an unseen male dancer. She poses in coupé with her right foot back and raises her arms to head-height, looking up towards the right as yellow leaves fall from the sky. Around her, dancers in various costumes pose with their arms above their head and their open hands crossed.
Collage Dance Collective in Kevin Thomas’ Firebird. Photo by Ariel J. Cobbert, courtesy Collage Dance Collective

Collage Dance Collective presents the live premiere of Kevin Thomas’ Firebird April 23–24. In this reimagined take, Thomas sets the ballet in the mythical South African jungle Tokoloshe, named after an evil sprite in Zulu/Xhosal mythology and ruled by wizards of fire, earth, water and wind. In addition, the Prince uses admiration and respect to befriend the Firebird, rather than threatening her. Alexander Woodward’s set designs are inspired by South African artist Mary Sibande, while costumes by Gabriela Moros Diaz allude to Zulu/Xhosal culture. American Ballet Theatre corps member Erica Lall and English National Ballet junior soloist Precious Adams will perform the Firebird and the Princess of Unreal Beauty, respectively, as guest artists.

Joffrey Ballet Presents Of Mice and Men

Xavier Nuñez sits on a wooden bench with his left leg propped up on the seat and points to something in the upper left corner. Dylan Guitierrez sits to his left on the floor with his legs crossed and looks up towards the left corner. They both wear denim pants, button-down shirts and black jazz shoes.
Xavier Núñez and Dylan Gutierrez in Cathy Marston’s Of Mice and Men. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Joffrey Ballet

April 27–May 8, The Joffrey Ballet presents Cathy Marston’s world-premiere adaptation of John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella Of Mice and Men. The production features an original score by Academy Award–nominated composer Thomas Newman in his first-ever composition for ballet. Created in collaboration with dramaturg Edward Kemp, the story follows Depression-era vagabonds George Milton and Lennie Small on their journey to find work in California and the tests they must endure along the way. The ballet, performed on a double bill alongside Balanchine’s Serenade, also includes set and lighting design by Lorenzo Savioni and costumes by Royal Opera House designer Bregje van Balen.

Charlotte Ballet’s Family-Friendly Sleeping Beauty

Originally scheduled to premiere in 2020, Matthew Hart’s The Sleeping Beauty: A Fairy-Tailored Classic finally hits the stage at Charlotte Ballet April 29–May 8. The brand-new production, fit with lavish sets and costumes by Peter Docherty, stays true to Petipa’s choreography and maintains the original Tchaikovsky score. However, Hart adds an onstage narrator to guide the audience through the story and has shortened the run time to close to two hours to appeal to first-time ballet-goers.