An Aurora Returns

Indiana Woodward

Westside Ballet is back from the pandemic—and Malibu-raised star Indiana Woodward is stepping in to teach a special intensive. 

The Santa Monica-based ballet school is holding an in-person course next month, featuring two Malibuites who said Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” was close to their hearts.

Woodward has been officially dancing since the age of three, though she has been in the dance world practically since birth. Her mother danced professionally in Paris for 18 years, and it was there that Woodward was born. 

Woodward’s family later moved to Malibu, where she attended Webster Elementary and Malibu High School, though she left MHS halfway through high school to pursue dance in Russia. The now-27-year-old became part of New York City Ballet’s corps at 18 and a soloist around age 22. 

Woodward has performed a litany of roles in “Sleeping Beauty,” from Aurora (the lead) to the Canary Fairy, the White Cat and the Blue Bird. She remembers dreaming about dancing the show since she was young.

Woodward described the ballet as a “beautiful mixture of story—so a lot of pantomiming and artistry—as well as really, really strong, elegant technique.”

The dancer cast as Aurora must be at peak athleticism, she explained. 

“[The role is] like the Olympics of ballet, basically … You’re dancing for three hours, and you’re doing adagio movement, which is slower, to very fast movement to jumps to turns to partnering,” Woodward said. 

That is why learning this ballet is crucial for the young students at Westside, she said. “It will challenge their artistry, the way they use their arms gracefully, but they’ll also have to really have a concrete and very structured, beautiful technique underneath—a really good base to be able to express yourself, which is the point of dance.” 

Westside Artistic Director Martine Harley is passionate about “Sleeping Beauty” as well. Like Woodward, the artistic director grew up in Malibu and remembers adoring the ballet as a little girl, so much so that when a wildfire threatened Harley’s Sunset Mesa neighborhood when she was six, she begged her parents to bring along her Lilac Fairy costume when they evacuated. 

“I remember packing to evacuate and my mom had made me a Lilac Fairy costume and that’s all I wanted her to save. I was like, ‘Don’t forget my costume! You have to pack my costume!’” the artistic director laughed. “Of course, my parents were like, ‘What? That’s so not important,’ but when I was six, that was everything.” 

When Harley later became a professional ballerina with the Houston Ballet, she got to perform that very role. 

“I cried because my dad was in the audience and I thought ‘Oh my God, I’m the Lilac Fairy for real,’” she smiled. 

Harley enjoyed a 24-year career with the Houston Ballet—12 years as a dancer, another 12 as the ballet master—before she returned to Southern California, where she was immediately hired by her old school, Westside. She has performed so many parts in “Sleeping Beauty” throughout her career that she can stage the whole thing from beginning to end in her sleep, she said.

Harley and Woodward both praised Malibu’s unique appreciation for the arts. From ironworkers to painters to sculptors to actors, the small city has produced legendary artists, the pair said. 

That’s why Woodward was so excited to return to her hometown. Woodward has previously participated in ballet performances staged at Malibu Bluffs Park—the Malibu Arts Commission’s Concert on the Bluffs—her dancing framed by the glittering Pacific. She hoped to perform there again, she said, but for the next few months at least, she will be performing elsewhere with her company: Sun Valley, Vail and Jackson Hole are her first summer destinations. Woodward will be dancing entirely outdoors, a welcome respite from pandemic regulations that relegated her work to video in recent months. 

The ballerina said that teaching often makes her own dancing better; she learns from her students just as much as they learn from her. 

As for the students? “To have a professional dancer in front of their eyes dancing these parts in front of them and teaching them, they’re going to glean so much from it,” Harley said. 

Westside Ballet is holding a weeklong course for its upper division dancers—aged 14 to 18—taking advantage of summer vacation to schedule days’ worth of classes and coaching. “An intensive is your chance to condense what you might do in six months into six weeks,” Harley said she tells her students.

Woodward will teach the course June 7 through 11.