Conquering one of Ballet’s Most Demanding Roles: Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty

An interview with Principal Dancer, Melissa Gelfin

Melissa Gelfin Aurora

Cincinnati Ballet Principal Dancer, Melissa Gelfin, joined Cincinnati Ballet as a new dancer for the 2014-2015 Season. She was promoted to Corps de Ballet, then to Senior Soloist, and ultimately to Principal Dancer. While she has danced numerous roles throughout her career, the role of Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty is definitely one of the most demanding roles for anyone who takes it on. Here, she talks about the trick to conquering this greatly sought-after role:

The role of Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty is known to be extremely difficult…perhaps one of the most challenging in all of ballet. Do you agree?

Aurora is basically one of the hardest roles I’ve ever danced. Physically, it’s one of the toughest. I always joke around with myself that my face gets red when I do something really tough. My face for this one is purple! Act One is the hardest act. You are dancing non-stop for 25 minutes, with only a minute or two when the corps is dancing.

How do you get yourself ready to dance the role, knowing how difficult it’s going to be?

I basically psyche myself up for it.  It’s like the Super Bowl of ballets because you have to be “in the zone” to do it.  There is no other way to accomplish or enjoy it because of how demanding it is. You have to be in the mindset, along with that of the character, at all times.

Since dancing it is such a challenge, does that take away from your liking or wanting to perform the role?

Not at all. In fact, this role is near the very top of my list in terms of things I love to dance.  I have a special place in my heart for dancing Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, but after that, it’s Aurora.

What makes the role of Aurora such a challenge?

Some roles that are demanding aren’t coupled with a character. For example, when you perform Rubies or Serenade, they’re not about a character that you have to portray.  My absolute favorite thing is the challenge of the physicality coupled with a character. In The Sleeping Beauty, for example, you have to go from being a vibrant 16 year old girl in Act One to a Second Act where you have to be so soft that you’re almost not there. It’s a total transformation of character within a two-hour period…a complete journey from beginning to end.

So, what’s the trick to mastering the role?

You have to put yourself in the mindset of the character and the difficulty of the role at the very beginning and forget about yourself. You have to have tunnel vision: I am Aurora. That means I “put my headphones on” (i.e., get into the zone) and focus only on that. And then, I enjoy the journey. If you’re not enjoying it, you’re exhausted and there’s no joy at the end.

Do you think that mastering this role will make future roles lose some of their luster since perhaps they won’t be as challenging to dance?

I don’t think this will ruin future roles for me at all. They’re all so different, and the music affects the body in different ways. That said, I will definitely compare the need for stamina to this role. Aurora is truly the “barometer for stamina” when it comes to dancing ballet! 

How would you encapsulate your feelings in just a few words about dancing the role of Aurora four times in the upcoming production of The Sleeping Beauty

I’d say it’s a real life fairy tale come true for me.

Rose Rehearsal 3

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