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The Magical Charm of Sleeping Beauty

A female dancer in a pink tutu leans over a male dancer in a lunge below the title "The Sleeping Beauty"
Get your tickets for Sleeping Beauty on April 26 and 27 at Maryland Hall.

Sleeping Beauty is a fairy tale most audience members know, but the particular charms of the ballet may be new. Follow along with us below to learn about the ballet's history and its story! We can't wait to share it with you onstage.


An International History

The traditional staging of Sleeping Beauty has influences from across Europe. Based on Perrault's French fairy tale, it was first staged in St. Petersburg in 1890 with Pyotr Tchaikovsky's celebrated score. The ballet's choreographer, Marius Petipa, brought the refinement of the French style together with the grand spectacle of the Russian stage. According to the Marius Petipa Society, Sleeping Beauty was the first collaboration between the dynamic duo of Tchaikovsky and Petipa. Other iconic works by the two masters include Swan Lake and The Nutcracker—both of which we will be performing next season.


Ivan Vsevolozhsky, then Russia's Director of Imperial Theatres, envisioned Sleeping Beauty in the French Classicism of Louis XIV, the sun king. Early ballet had flourished in Louis XIV's 17th-century court, so this choice pays homage to an important phase in ballet's history. On this theme, the ballet's original apotheosis (closing scene), even featured the Ancient Greek god of the sun, Helios, as an allusion to France's sun king.


In addition to its Russian and French lineage, Sleeping Beauty owes some of its legacy to the Italian tradition of ballet. Much of the virtuosity that ballet developed in the 19th century came from the athletic, technical style of Italian ballet dancers. Two such dancer played significant roles in Sleeping Beauty's premiere: Carlotta Brianza as Princess Aurora and Enrico Cecchetti as both Carabosse and the Bluebird.


Dancers in pink tights and practice tutus strike a pose in the studio.
Sarah Jung and artists of BTM in rehearsal for the Prologue

The Prologue: It Starts with a Curse

The story of Sleeping Beauty revolves around three celebrations: Aurora's christening, her 16th birthday, and her wedding to Prince Florimund. The guests invited to each one shape the progression of the plot as well as the choreography presented onstage.

 

At baby Aurora's christening, the king and queen's master of ceremonies has invited all of the good fairies in the kingdom. Each fairy bestows a gift upon Princess Aurora through a variation, a solo dance which evokes their blessing. Various versions of the production have different gifts, but common ones are grace, beauty, generosity, a melodious voice, and a good temperament. The Lilac Fairy dances last, but is interrupted before giving the princess her intended gift.

 

An uninvited guest crashes the party: the wicked fairy Carabosse. When inviting the other fairies, the master of ceremonies had passed over Carabosse. To get her revenge, Carabosse curses Aurora to prick her finger with a spindle (the pointed spike on a spinning wheel) on her 16th birthday and die.

 

The king, queen, and court are distraught. Before Carabosse can leave, the Lilac Fairy steps forward. Because she had not yet given Aurora her gift, the Lilac Fairy is able to soften Carabosse's curse. Instead of pricking her finger and dying, Aurora will merely fall asleep. She will wake in 100 years through the power of true love's kiss.


In a dance studio, A ballet dancer perches en pointe while holding the hand of her partner
Victoria Siracusa, partnered by Isaac Martinez, rehearses the one-handed promenade in the "Rose Adagio" from Act I

Act I: Sweet Sixteen

Sixteen years later, the court gathers for another celebration: Aurora's birthday party. The princess has been raised without knowledge of her curse, in the hope it can be prevented. Because of this optimism, the king and queen present Aurora with four suitors who wish to win her hand. Aurora dances with all of them in the Rose Adagio, which is perhaps the most famous section of Sleeping Beauty.

 

During the Rose Adagio, the audience sees the way Aurora has grown into the different gifts she received from the fairies. According to our Artistic Director Nicole Kelsch, "Aurora should be gracious and elegant as she meets her suitors, despite her shyness." As the adagio goes on, the steps become more and more difficult but Aurora's hesitancy turns to confidence.


The challenging choreography of the Rose Adagio is owed in part to the ballet's Italian legacy. According to Jennifer Homans in Apollo's Angels (2010), the long balances that Aurora takes with each suitor was previously used as a trick in Italian stagecraft. The way Petipa integrated these balances into his choreography elevated them into "a poetic metaphor [of Aurora's] independence and strength of character" (Homans, 2010, p. 276).

 

Aurora's birthday party is a success for all involved, but then disaster strikes: Carabosse arrives in disguise and hands her a bouquet. Aurora accepts it, unwittingly pricking her finger on the spindle hidden inside. As foretold, Aurora falls into a deep, magical sleep. The Lilac Fairy scares Carabosse away and sends the rest of the castle into the same enchanted slumber.


Ballet dancers holding hoops practice in the studio.
Catherine Welch and artists of BTM in rehearsal for the Garland Waltz in Act I.

Act II: Visions and Dreaming

With Aurora asleep, it is up to the Lilac Fairy to ensure that the princess and her court are revived. One hundred years after Aurora's birthday party, the Lilac Fairy appears to a prince named Florimund who is out hunting near the overgrown and seemingly abandoned castle. She gives him a vision of the beautiful princess so that Aurora and Florimund may meet and fall in love. At Florimund's behest, the Lilac Fairy guides him into the castle to the chamber where Aurora is sleeping. True to the fairy's blessing, Florimund's kiss awakens Aurora and everyone else in the castle.


Act III: Time for a Wedding

The curtain opens on Princess Aurora and Prince Florimund's wedding, which has a guest list full of fairies and storybook characters. These include four Jewel Fairies--Gold, Silver, and Sapphire led by the Diamond Fairy--as well as Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Puss in Boots and the White Cat, and Princess Florine and the Bluebird. While Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf need no explanation, audience members may be less familiar with the other two couples.


Puss in Boots has been immortalized in the animated character voiced by Antonio Banderas, but he dates back to another of Perrault's stories. Also called "The Master Cat," Puss in Boots was a clever helper who enabled his owner to rise in society and ultimately marry a princess. In Sleeping Beauty, he is accompanied by the White Cat, who hails from her own fairy tale by Madame d'Aulnoy. In this story, a young prince stumbles upon a castle full of talking cats. Much like Puss in Boots, the White Cat helps the prince succeed in his quest and eventually reveals that she is more than she seems. Bringing these two unrelated characters together provides an interesting Easter egg for audience members who know their fairy tales. In Puss in Boots and the White Cat's dance, their playful pawing evokes the mercurial personalities of house cats.

 

Madame d'Aulnoy also wrote the story of Princess Florine and her Bluebird. The Bluebird was once a handsome prince, but was transformed into a bird when he preferred Princess Florine over her jealous step-sister. While Florine was held captive in a high tower, the Bluebird would perch on a branch outside her window and sing to her. Audience members will note Florine's pantomime of "singing" back to her Bluebird, and the Marius Petipa Society suggests that their pas de deux is the Bluebird teaching her to fly.

 

Lastly, Princess Aurora and Prince Florimund dance their wedding pas de deux. This choreography showcases their elegance, refinement, and trust in one another. There is an increased maturity to Aurora's movements; although she has been asleep for 100 years, her movement shows that she is no longer the shy princess who received suitors on her 16th birthday. Emphasizing this personal growth, the choreography echoes moments of the Rose Adagio. Like Cinderella sliding her foot into her glass slipper, Aurora and Florimund reprising the challenging one-handed promenade and balance of the Rose Adagio demonstrates that Aurora has given her hand to the one best suited to her.


Ballet Theatre of Maryland performs this classic Petipa ballet on April 26 and 27. To buy tickets and learn more, visit our Sleeping Beauty page today.

 

Buyers Beware!

Tickets for performances by the Ballet Theatre of Maryland are only sold through Eventbrite. Purchasing tickets from any other seller or website runs the risk of receiving fraudulent tickets or paying inflated prices. Tickets purchased through unauthorized third parties may not be valid and may be unusable for admittance. The Ballet Theatre of Maryland is not responsible for any lost or stolen third-party tickets. Help us serve you in the best manner by purchasing your tickets here at www.BalletMaryland.org or by phone at (410) 224-5644.


 

Was there anything new you learned about Sleeping Beauty? We'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Promotional photo by Joanne Marie Photography. Rehearsal photos by Lauren Martinez.


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