The Sleeping Beauty Ballet is one of the most well known of all classical ballets. It is performed worldwide by almost all major ballet companies and was even the basis for the famous 1959 film version, Sleeping Beauty by Walt Disney.
The Story of Sleeping Beauty
The story of the Sleeping Beauty is well know and was the first fairy tale in the Mother Goose collection by the French writer Charles Perrault in 1697. Many variations followed including one by the Brothers Grimm called Briar Rose.
The ballet begins with the christening of Princess Aurora. All of fairies in the kingdom have been invited and bestow good gifts. All, that is, except one who was accidentally overlooked. This evil fairy, Carabosse, instead offers a curse: Aurora will one day prick her finger and die. The Lilac Fairy, who has not yet given her gift, modifies the curse so that Aurora will merely sleep for 100 years until she is awakened by the kiss of a Prince.
At her sixteenth birthday, Aurora is considering four suitors. A disguised Carabosse manages to sneak in a spindle and gives it to Aurora who then pricks her finger. She, as well as the entire kingdom, falls asleep. They sleep for a hundred years until Prince Florimund discovers them while on a hunting expedition. The Lilac Fairy has shown him a vision of Aurora which sets him on the task. He finds the castle, defeats Carabosse and with a kiss breaks Aurora's curse. At a grand celebration, they are married and, presumably, live happily ever after.
In the original text there is a part two, involving the Prince's evil mother, Aurora's children and another rescue, but that has never been included in the ballet version.
Sleeping Beauty Ballet Beginnings
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write the music for the Sleeping Beauty Ballet by the director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. He was, at first, hesitant as the reception of his previous grand ballet, Swan Lake, had been less than enthusiastic. Marius Petipa the choreographer staged the ballet and it premiered in on January 24, 1890 to great acclaim, setting the standard for all classical ballet that followed.
Sleeping Beauty Choreography
The Sleeping Beauty is structured much like many other grand classical ballets with alternations between mimed storytellng and virtuoso dances. There are numerous grand waltzes, pas de deux and solo variations. It consists of a Prologue and three Acts and will fill an entire evening program. The following some highlights:
- Prologue: The Christening, Lilac Fairy Variation
- Act I: The Birthday Party, Rose Adagio
- Act II: Hunting Party, Awakening of Aurora
- Act III: The Wedding Celebration, Character Dances, Aurora Variation, Bluebird Variation, Prince's Variation
One of the most famous solos is the Rose Adagio. Technically it is not a solo as Aurora dances with four suitors, yet it is considered to be such because she does the most difficult dancing. In this tour de force the ballerina must execute very exacting balance moves while changing partners. Each pass becomes exceedingly more difficult beginning with developee (leg extensions) and balancing arabesques. The penultimate test comes when Aurora balanced en pointe in an arabesque is turned 360 degrees by each suitor. In between the handoffs she raises both arms in fifth position (overhead) before she takes the next suitor's hand. It is not surprising to see some visible wobbles but on the best nights the ballerina will remain as solid as a rock.
Since Sleeping Beauty is a ballet dedicated to showing the skills of the prima ballerina, the most famous female ballet stars have tackled it. Some ballerinas more than others, however, have made their mark as Aurora, for example:
Sleeping Beauty on Film
There are many versions of the ballet available on video and DVD:
- 1955 Sadler Wells/Royal Ballet with Margot Fonteyn
- 1964 Kirov Ballet
- The Sleeping Beauty (1982 TV Movie) Kirov Ballet
- The Sleeping Beauty (2000 TV Movie Paris Opera Ballet
- 2006, Royal Ballet
Sleeping Beauty is one of the greatest classical ballets ever performed and should not be missed. Fortunately there are many opportunities to see it, as it remains popular with all ages.