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Preparations Underway for SNB Historic Event

Published July 14, 2023

Preparations Underway for SNB Historic Event

by Rosine Bena

It is summer and an exciting time for Sierra Nevada Ballet as we prepare for a historic event for our community: the full-length story ballet of The Last Unicorn, based on the novel by Peter S. Beagle. The ballet will premiere in Reno on July 22, 2023 at 7:30pm at the Pioneer Center for Performing Arts as part of Artown and will be repeated on July 24 at the Sand Harbor venue at Lake Tahoe at 7:30pm as part of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival and again on August 5 at 7:30pm at the Carson City Community Center. 

A production of this magnitude requires the talents of many artists, both on stage and behind the scenes.

Photo of set for Last Unicorn by Edward Bena: Side and top panels for Enchanted Forest

SNB has been fortunate to acquire the original backdrops created by my dancer/set designer father, Edward Bena, who passed away in 1993. I worked on the original designs for these drops with my dad in 1989, and it means so very much to me to see them once again on the stage. Dad was a dancer and a visual artist-turned-set designer and was meticulous, always laying designs out by hand in graph form so he could transfer them in the proper dimensions to the large stage backdrops. 

The Last Unicorn ballet took me three years to create, but the PBT company was not certain that the production could actually financially take place until only a few months before the scheduled production date. I remember making some quick sketches for Dad and telling him that I needed three backdrops for the ballet. While the paint prep work was done at the PBT studio attic, Dad actually painted the three large backdrops (40 feet long and 30 feet high) in one day at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center. To achieve this, he had a team of different painter volunteers come and go in shifts to help him from early morning until 11pm at night. I had been in rehearsal for many hours that day and went to check in with Dad in the evening. He was very tired and really pretty annoyed with me for asking him to do this seemingly impossible task. When he saw me, he grabbed his paint brush and covered me in paint. It was quite comical. He said, “I have tried and tried to make this wave in the sea and it still does not work. We are running out of time.” I knew how important this set was to the production and was determined that nothing would make it fail. So, standing there covered in paint (Dad’s favorite pink called “Melissa”), I looked at the drop; grabbed the brush, and made the wave free hand. Dad then had the painting team fill in with appropriately-colored paint. My dad was a pretty special guy. 

Photos of sets for Last Unicorn by Edward Bena: Castle interior-side view, Castle Interior-front view, Sea (From Left to Right)

The Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts Technical Director, Italo Croco, has been kind enough to hang the backdrops on stage to see if they can be used, after having been stored in Peninsula Ballet Theatre’s warehouse in the SF Bay Area for 34 years. The backdrops appear to have survived beautifully, and some of the set pieces (including the crumbling castle of King Haggard) have also been able to be refreshed by the SNB set design team of David Johnson and Steve Porter.  

Unfortunately, most of the costumes from the original production did not survive, but the wonderful SNB costume team of Lena Riella, Alisanne Maffei, Melissa Macias, and several volunteer helpers have been able to recreate them from 1989 photographs of the production. 

Photo of set for Last Unicorn by Edward Bena: Enchanted Forest

There are a significant number of enchanting headpieces and masks also needed for this ballet, and I made all of them for the original production. Some have survived, and some needed to be remade.  It has been a great joy helping to recreate the magical creatures that inhabit the world of The Last Unicorn:  the Red Bull, the Harpy, the Manticore, the Cereberus, the Magical Tree, the many animals in the Enchanted Forest, the Butterfly, the Cat, the Skeleton, and the many Unicorns. We are very excited to see them all come to life on stage in the only ballet in the world based on the book by Peter S. Beagle. 

I hope that you will join us for this historic event: the premiere of The Last Unicorn on July 22, 2023 at the Pioneer Center for Performing Arts in Reno.


For ticket information visit the SNB website at or call SNB at 775-360-8663

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