Houston' Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty: Be Careful Who You Leave Off the Guest List

Houston Ballet Principal Melody Mennite as Carabosse with artists of Houston Ballet in Ben Stevenson's The Sleeping Beauty.
Houston Ballet Principal Melody Mennite as Carabosse with artists of Houston Ballet in Ben Stevenson's The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy of Houston Ballet
Maybe there are some very good reasons that Carabosse places a curse on Princess Aurora. Well, if not good, then at least understandable.

After all, it's something most of us can identify with: Feelings of sadness, embarrassment and anger when everyone else is invited to a party and we're not.

So Houston Ballet Principal Dancer Melody Mennite dancing the role of Carabosse in Ben Stevenson's The Sleeping Beauty declines to see her character as pure evil.

"I think the character of Carabosse is really powerful; she feels really powerful to me. I struggle to think of her as just pure evil. I feel she really isn’t afraid to own her power," Mennite says.

"She is a character who has been ostracized and rejected, almost banished and yes, that's really painful, I even think of it like a metaphor for people who are marginalized," Mennite says.  "It's an injustice and I like thinking that she has something to say about that and 'Uh-uh, this is not OK.' It's very painful to be left out intentionally."

The ballet is a long one, and this is the second time for Mennite dancing this role.

I’ve kind of made my way through most of the female roles," she says. "And I have to say this one is my favorite." The stage is filled with colorful characters, she says, "that speak more deeply to us. You go into these dream world of Aurora dreaming and it's one of the pinnacles of classical ballet. It's ethereal. And magical. It's a classic for a reason."

As the story opens, there is a grand celebration of the birth of Princess Aurora. Aurora's parents, the King and Queen, are the hosts of the christening and six fairies who embody things like generosity, beauty and song, are invited to bestow gifts upon Aurora. But not Caraboose. She isn't on the guest list. Flying into a rage, Carabosse places a curse on the baby, saying that when she reaches 16 years of age, she will prick her finger and die. 

The Lilac Fairy, a good fairy, is not powerful enough to completely cancel the curse but she is able to amend it Yes Aurora when she gets to be 16 will prick her finger but she will fall into a 100 year sleep with the chance of being awakened by a handsome prince. As it turns out, the whole kingdom goes to sleep. Until ta-da, an ardent smooch solves all.

"Carabosse is also a fairy. She's labeled the evil fairy She gets to be angry. She gets to be very transparent about her feelings that aren't necessarily like any of the other fairies. Which are like:  Be nice, be polite and I feel like that’s very familiar to young women. There is room in there to come on and be like: there's other stuff that happens too. So I think that’s what I like about her," Mennite says.

Mennite compares Carabosse to the more recent treatment of Maleficient (same character, different name) in the movies. "I like those stories that show the connection between Maleficent and Aurora."

This is the second time Mennite has danced this role which she calls one of her favorites. Still, all that unhappiness is hard to sustain and takes its toll in one of the company's longest ballets. "I end up with a lot of tension to my neck because her choreography and her characterization is this intense place of anger even like turning into rage. Physically it’s intense. The women who’ve been cast. to play her have been saying 'My neck hurts.'"

When she comes on she has this extraordinarily commanding presence and it takes a lot of energy. That's one of the biggest challenges of that role."

Carabosse comes on and there’s no niceties she’s not dicing her words this is not ok. She’s personal even just that is a gift for young women to be able to step into a situation to say this is not ok. Yeah she casts a spell she’s going to prick her finger anddie. I hav eot make sense of who this person fairy is.

One of the aspects that Mennite really enjoys about her role is the costume she gets to wear as Carabosse. "It's beautiful. I feel beautiful in it."

And maybe the next time you go to see The Sleeping Beauty and glance around the room filled with young girls in the audience wearing their finest pink tutus, they'll be one or two of a different type. Asked about the possibility, Mennite says:

"Absolutely. I really hope that happens. I don't think that has been the norm for me, but it does happen. It’s one of the fun things about playing a character like Carabosse that there are little girls who will be like 'You were my favorite.'

"So yeah, I hope I hope there’s few little black tutus this time around," she says laughing. "That would be really fun to see."

Performances are scheduled for February 27 through March 8 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Wortham Center, 500 Texas. For information, call 713-2272787or visit $25-$200.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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