The holiday spirit is strong in the studios at the Midtown Arts Center. Eugene Ballet…
Artistic Director Toni Pimble takes a look back at our season opener, The Sleeping Beauty, and the technical challenges that Principal Dancers Sarah Kosterman and Danielle Tolmie faced in dancing the role of Princess Aurora. We also asked both dancers to share how they prepared for Aurora, their most challenging moment, and what they are looking forward to in Pimble’s The Nutcracker at the Hult Center this month.
The Sleeping Beauty is one of three full length ballets that Tchaikovsky wrote during a fruitful collaboration with the French ballet master, Marius Petipa, while working in St. Petersburg for the Imperial Ballet. Along with Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the role of Aurora is one of the most coveted principal roles for ballerinas.
These days, dancers are very lucky to have access to YouTube where there is a plethora of videos by top dancers throughout the world tackling this role, making it possible for them to study different interpretations and learn from different ballerinas ’mastery of the demanding technique.
We are so fortunate at Eugene Ballet to have two principal dancers, Danielle Tolmie and Sarah Kosterman, ready to dance this role. They brought very different qualities to the role of Aurora.
Many of Eugene Ballet dancers begin their career with our company as Aspirants. Currently, all but one of Eugene Ballet’s women have progressed from Aspirant to Company Dancer. Danielle and Sarah are two such dancers.”
Danielle Tolmie as Aurora in 2022
Danielle danced the role in 2015 for the first time. During the intervening years, she has grown into a mature dancer displaying confidence in her technique, poise, and assuredness in her interpretation of the role of Aurora. In performance, she showed the courage to play with the musicality in her variations, finding balances on pointe, holding them, and returning effortlessly to the musicality of the variation. While this may be fun to do in rehearsal, to have the confidence to do this on stage during a performance is no mean feat.
Sarah, dancing the role for the first time, used her skills as an actress to embrace the youth of Aurora. Her arrival at her 16th birthday party brought all the energy and excitement of a young girl making her first appearance. The most difficult pas de deux in Act I is the rose adagio in which Aurora is partnered by four suitors. The role demands extended balances with partners changing their support. It is a nerve-wracking technical feat. Sarah handled it calmly and with a courage that proved her worthiness for the role.
One of the important aspects of these classical ballets is the partnership created by the principal couple on stage. The final grand pas de deux in Act III of The Sleeping Beauty is a marriage between Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré, and for the couple executing this work it is a partnership of complete empathy and intuition. Danielle and her husband Principal Dancer Mark Tucker have a long partnership both on and off stage that shines in The Sleeping Beauty. Sarah and Principal Dancer Reed Souther worked on forging a partnership throughout the rehearsal process leading up to the performance. Reed showed a tenderness and caring for his partner, recognizing the importance of this first performance for Sarah (her first as a principal dancer).
Left, Danielle Tolmie and Mark Tucker, right, Sarah Kosterman and Reed Souther, 2022
Many of Eugene Ballet dancers begin their career with our company as Aspirants. Currently, all but two of Eugene Ballet’s women have progressed from Aspirant to Company Dancer. Danielle and Sarah are two such dancers. For the artistic staff it is incredibly rewarding to nurture their talent and see the results in beautiful performances on stage.
Our Aspirants represent the present and the future of Eugene Ballet. You can learn more about the Aspirant Program HERE.
How did you prepare for the role of Aurora?
Danielle: YouTube can be a wonderful tool for dancers to be able to watch videos of other principal ballerinas performing the same role. Each of them has their own interpretation of the role and the steps. In the weeks leading up to The Sleeping Beauty I spent a lot of time looking at what they each chose to do and ultimately picked Marianela Núñez because her Aurora fell into alignment with the one I was planning to portray and who Aurora exemplifies. Nothing is overdone. She is pure in her steps and despite being so strong she is capable of being incredibly nuanced with her movement.
Sarah: When I was younger I would watch ballet videos almost obsessively, critiquing each ballerina’s interpretation of the role. I now see how much value that had and continues to have in my dancing today. Throughout the process of learning Aurora, I actually didn’t watch very many videos of ballerinas performing the role, beyond just to see the choreography. As I’ve gotten older and more experienced, I don’t spend as much time watching videos. I like to create my own dialogue in my head and try to find intention and purpose in each step, look, and smile.
What was your most challenging moment?
Danielle: With such a long and physically demanding ballet it can be slightly overwhelming when you think about how much you have to do. The challenge lied in staying present in the moment and not thinking about all of the things that still had to come. Ultimately I feel that being in the moment provided me with the strength I needed to perform the role to the best of my ability.
Sarah: If I had to pick one, it would be the balances at the end of rose adagio. It’s a very long section and it’s quite scary when you’re on stage and tired to let go of your partner’s hand and have to balance. But more difficult than any one moment was the mental challenge of taking on the role of Aurora. The sheer volume of dancing Aurora has to do is overwhelming on its own. Not only that, but in my mind Aurora is the pinnacle role for a ballet dancer in terms of technique, every step executed with precision and perfection. The pressure that I put on myself was immense and I constantly was reminding myself to have confidence, be calm and to trust in myself.
Left, Danielle Tolmie as Sugar Plum Fairy, 2018, right, Sarah Kosterman as Clara, 2021
What are you most looking forward to in The Nutcracker?
Danielle: One of the wonderful things about The Nutcracker is that we do it year after year. Getting to revisit certain roles each time provides a good baseline for us to see how we’ve improved over the last year and allows us to add little changes to challenge our technique and artistry. This year we made quite a few changes in the grand pas de deux. They are really beautiful and I have found it fun to switch it up, but my muscle memory is strong, so it was difficult at first to remember all of them!
Sarah: In The Nutcracker I’m most looking forward to performing the role of Clara. I love dancing the role of Clara because it requires so much acting. Clara is on stage almost the whole ballet which gives me plenty of time to relax and feel comfortable. I especially love the pas de deux with Clara and Hans before the [Winter Land] snow scene. It is pure joy to dance!
Join us for the MAGIC of this beloved holiday classic at seven performances in the Hult Center December 17 and 18, and 21 through the Christmas Eve matinee on December 24. Youth tickets always start at $15, and adult tickets are $25 to $60. Beware of ticket scammers, and always purchase your tickets HERE at hultcenter.org or by calling (541-682-5000) or visiting the Hult Center Ticket Office.