By: Mariko Turk
London’s Royal Ballet is performing its illustrious version of Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty, complete with magic spells, good and evil fairies, and Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score. Yesterday’s production was broadcast live in movie theatres around the world, and will be shown all over the US this evening.
With its lavish costumes and sets, The Sleeping Beauty is a staple of classical ballet repertoires. It was first performed in 1890, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, where The Nutcracker would also premiere a couple of years later. Despite its spectacular stature, however, the ballet also contains many small moments worth ruminating on.
Stillness and Strength
Princess Aurora, the victim of a spell that makes her prick her finger on a spindle and fall asleep for 100 years, is usually, to say the least, a rather passive heroine. However, dancing the role of Aurora is one of the most physically demanding challenges a ballerina can take on.
One of the most difficult portions is a series of balances in which the (nearly impossible) goal is to remain completely still. This can be seen as a kind of twist on Aurora’s famous repose, in that it turns stillness into a marker of strength rather than weakness.
The balances come during the epic Rose Adagio, in which Aurora dances at court with four suitors. Aurora gives her hand in turn to each suitor, who then turns her around in a slow promenade, after which she lets go of his hand and balances on pointe with her leg bent in an attitude derriere position, arms in fifth position above her head. Her only point of contact with the floor is the few square inches of paper, glue, and satin at the tip of her pointe shoe. She does this series of balances twice–once at the beginning of the adagio, and once at the end, when she is presumably exhausted beyond measure. Below are excerpts of Jurgita Dronina of the Dutch National Ballet dancing Aurora. See her balances at 1.38.
Fairy Tale Wedding
Act 3 of The Sleeping Beauty depicts the wedding festivities of Aurora and her prince. Several famed fairy tale characters are in attendance, of course, and so this act also contains mini, balletic re-enactments of Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, and Cinderella.
At the beginning of the ballet, the court celebrates the birth of Aurora, and fairies arrive to bestow gifts upon her. The exact gifts vary from production to production, but usually they are some variation of: Tenderness, Carelessness, Generosity, Playfulness, and Audacity. It is fascinating to pick out the subtle ways that each abstraction is portrayed through music, choreography, and style.
Check your local listings to find out where you can see the re-broadcast of yesterday’s Royal Ballet production of The Sleeping Beauty!