This upcoming Thursday marks the London premiere of Sleeping Beauty by Canada’s Ballet Jörgen, currently touring across Canada and the United States.
The company, under artistic director Bengt Jörgen, has put together a brand new production of the classic ballet. It’s a story we’re all familiar with, a sleeping princess woken up by the kiss of a handsome prince, with the addition of a seasonal motif – summer, spring, winter, autumn.
Kealan McLaughlin, one of the dancers for the company, is practicing for a few different roles. The ballet operates on a rotating cast – he’s danced multiple characters, among them Bluebird, a suitor, and the Prince himself. This also means he has to radically change his style with every performance.
“If it’s a character that’s all about bravado, then the performance has to be all about bravado,” he says. “Bluebird, for example, comes out like he’s been shot out of a cannon, you just don’t worry about anything and keep going, jump around, move on.”
The Prince, though, has an entirely different attitude. McLaughlin also performed the Prince in Cinderella, and recalls that the role was fairly static and happy. Sleeping Beauty’s Prince, by contrast, has more of a narrative arc, from despondent to desperate.
“It’s fun to go out there and dance a solo that’s really sanguine, longing, and then right to urgent — he’s really looking for her,” he says.
McLaughlin started dancing when he was six, but the impulse was in him even before then. When the theme for the final Jeopardy question started playing, he would get up on the table and “shake [his] booty,” much to the amusement of his mother.
“I asked my mother what I was doing and she said I was dancing,” he says. “I asked what kind of dance and she listed off every kind. When she got to ballet, I said – that’s it, I want to do that. And it seems to be the right choice, because I’ve never looked back.”
When McLaughlin joined Canada’s Ballet Jörgen, he quickly realized it wasn’t your average ballet company. To decide on the production for the season, they put out a poll within the company and then on their Facebook group so the fans and cast could vote.
A simple method, but one that expresses the mission of the company well – they’re for the people. Big names like National Ballet Canada and the Royal Winnipeg ballet, says McLaughlin, tend to perform at the same few locations. By contrast, Jörgen tries to do every province, every season. Their mandate is to get every child in Canada to see some kind of ballet performance twice before they graduate high school, and they often engage in outreach with Canadian schools and education.
“We’re reaching a really interesting audience, in communities that don’t often get ballet brought in,” McLaughlin explains. “I’m getting to see the country for what it really is, province to province.”
On a more personal level, he sees the company as a sort of family. It’s a smaller group, with only around 20 dancers this year, compared to most professional ballet companies with up to 80 dancers. Each personality, he explains, is felt with that much more intensity. The members have a Facebook group where they’ll often organize a movie night, or even just go for a walk and invite others.
“All of us are very connected,” he says. “That’s something that really does stand out in the ballet community. It’s a pretty warm atmosphere, and it’s a place where everybody’s supportive — that’s something that I thrive on.”
Sleeping Beauty will be playing at the Grand Theatre on Thursday, March 31 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $70.50.