Monday, March 26, 2012: Love or Fear?

Opus Osm Javier Torres

Choreographer Javiér Torrés explains how fear or love informs every choice we make. It's a theme in his upcoming production of Sleeping Beauty.

Choosing Love? or Fear?

If you know the traditional Marius Petipa version of The Sleeping Beauty, you might be surprised at the new version premiering this weekend at The National Theatre: It’s shorter. Moreover, the story doesn’t present a struggle between the good and bad fairies, but between love and fear.

And if you don’t know the traditional version of this ballet – or even if you don’t know anything about ballet, period – you will probably enjoy this version, guest-choreographed by Javiér Torrés. The Mexican master offers a “spectacular,” 63 dancers in 310 gorgeous costumes, a great story line, and lots of accessible humor.

“I love fairy tales as a method to instruct people,” he tells Opus Osm. “It’s the way kids were taught before there were computers. The advantage is that it allows images to develop [in your imagination], while many things we have today are concrete. Not only children but adults lose images too; that’s why we brought back the fairy tale to the stage.”

Somewhat stocky, with black hair and dark eyes typical of folks from Mexico, Mr Torrés lives energy, love, and life; you can see it in his large, liquid eyes and expressive, can’t-sit-still body. He likes the metaphor of love and fear because “Every morning you can choose to live in love or fear, a much higher spiritual level than ‘good’ or ‘bad.’”

Opus Osm Carabosse

Fear in a tutu: costume sketch for Carabosse

For example, he says, “Some people dress for success on the job, spending lots of money on just the right clothes – dressing for fear. And many people just love what they wear; they don’t care what other people say. That applies to everything in life.”

Easy to say, but how can we do it? “The best way is to see how you feel in your heart. It doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. Sometimes you live in fear because you still don’t have the strength to live in love. But the awareness that you’re doing something from fear means that you can do it from love – someday. It’s about working with the choice every day.”

A graduate of the National School of Ballet, Mexico City, Mr Torrés performed in contemporary and classic ballets throughout Europe, and danced with the Finnish National Ballet for more than 15 years. So he knows a bit about fear from the dancers’ side.

“We used to say ‘You have to break the dancer to make the dancer.’ Most ballet schools, from the beginning, scream at the children, make them repeat a step over and over, and for older dancers maybe even hit at them, tell them they’re shit.

“It keeps dancers under fear. It stops them from growing.

“It’s a very different thing to ask, ‘Why do you think it didn’t work?’ When you use positive techniques the dancers react as adults, not waiting for someone to tell them why something was wrong.”

He recalls working with a group of small children who were told to portray monsters. They all jumped into the role, except for a very tall girl, too tall to fit in. Mr Torrés simply told her, “You too!” “Me?” she said, and when he smiled and nodded, she immediately figured out how to joyously join in.

Javier Torres Opus Osm

Mr Torrés shows how, given loving permission, a very tall girl portrayed a very short monster.

As a choreographer, Mr Torrés has created more than 25 works. Working with The National Theatre Ballet here, he notes, “They have a certain devotion you don’t find in every company – the love they have for their work.

“It’s teamwork, like ping pong — and we’re playing a great game.” — oo

– Mary Matz

Sleeping Beauty (Šípková Růženka) at The National Theatre premieres Mar 29 and 30, with repeat performances Apr 1, 6, and 8, and then in early winter 2013.

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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