Wicked Good

Monday Magazine | February 27, 2008
It’s no secret that Maleficent, the evil fairy from the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty, is a favourite among drag queens with a taste for the dark side. Less well-known, however, is that Carabosse, the same character in the classic ballet version of The Sleeping Beauty, is also often played by a man. And when the Royal Winnipeg Ballet brings their acclaimed version back to town this week, you’ll find second soloist Darren Anderson lurking beneath that wicked dress.

“Yeah, I’m full-on glammed up, headpiece and heels, press-on nails, the whole nine yards,” Anderson laughs from RWB headquarters in (naturally) Winnipeg. “My inspiration came from a mixture of Joan Collins, Cruella De Ville and Leona Helmsley, with just a dash of Joan Crawford.”

Anderson, last seen locally in the infinitely more butch role of the vampire-whacking Van Helsing in RWB’s Dracula, doesn’t seem the slightest bit phased by the idea of swapping his tights for a gown. “To even be put in a role like Carabosse is a big honour in any company—especially in this company, where there’s been so many great ones before me,” he says.

Much like Disney’s Maleficent, Carabosse remains an audience favourite in The Sleeping Beauty, the venerable 1892 production featuring Marius Petipa’s choreography and Tchaikovsky’s music (performed this week by a live orchestra) that’s still dubbed “the world’s most popular ballet.” Amidst the swirling storybook of characters—Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré, yes, but also the likes of Little Red Riding Hood and Puss in Boots—Carabosse can’t help but loom large. “People love it,” says Anderson. “It’s one of our highest-selling ballets, right up there with Swan Lake and Romeo & Juliet.”

What’s the enduring appeal? “It’s a formula that worked over a hundred years ago and it’s still working,” says Anderson. “Most everyone knows the story, so it’s easy to follow, the music is pretty, you can bring children to it . . . whereas the more contemporary, modern stuff can sometimes be a little more difficult. It’s like looking at contemporary art; people can feel a little intimidated because they don’t know what they’re looking at, whereas it’s actually something they should feel.”

While Anderson has been with the RWB since 2002, this will be his first time playing a full character role like Carabosse. “It’s a whole lot more work than I thought it was going to be,” he admits. Not only does it take him an extra hour to get into costume (that’s on top of the RWB’s standard 40-hour work week), but he also spent a great deal of time researching and preparing for the part. “It takes quite a bit to make the role believable,” he explains. “I wouldn’t want to go out on stage and have the costume wearing me; I definitely want to command the whole stage, make it believable and understandable for the audience.” And while having a man play Carabosse varies from company to company, Anderson says it’s standard form for the RWB version. “It just makes her more grotesque and over-the-top, more larger than life.”

Tackling Carabosse may sound tricky enough, but keep in mind this is only one show in RWB’s current season, which includes productions of The Magic Flute, Nutcracker, All Balanchine and Carmen, The Passion. As a dancer, is it difficult shifting from role to role? “Not so tricky when it comes to remembering the choreography, but it is taxing on the body,” says Anderson. “You need a different sort of training to go on stage for something that’s classically based, as opposed to rolling on the floor with your shirt off. For instance, I’m going from a contemporary role with jumping and turning in The Magic Flute into a classical role like Carbosse, where I’m not doing any jumping or turning; I have to switch over to the acting side, which can be a lot more mentally demanding.”

At least he doesn’t have to do it in heels.

Monday Magazine

Founded in 1975 to provide a critical voice in Victoria's political and cultural communities, Monday Magazine continues to shake British Columbia's conservative capital city with tell-it- like-it-is features and reviews. Targeting educated, active adults and Victoria's growing youth market, Monday...
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