February is Sleeping Beauty Month


Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty is among the longest and most technically difficult ballets of the canon—and, as if understanding this, the companies who produce the ballet have the most glorious sets and costumes. The attention to detail is inspiring!

You should know the ballet is different in some ways to the movie—though Disney did use a few of the more prominent pieces of Tchaikovsky’s score for his movie. Most notably, he retooled the Sleeping Beauty Waltz for “Once Upon a Dream.” In addition to being a more familiar story than most ballets, you’ll recognize a lot of songs from Sleeping Beauty you’ve heard before in other places.

The two productions I want to direct you to are real treats! Traditionally, the hardest roles for men and women are in Sleeping Beauty: for women, it’s the title role. For men, it’s the role of the Bluebird (in the final act), which is also, often played by the same man who plays Carabosse. Among the most famous ballet dancers in history, Enrico Cecchetti, made the two male roles famous. Cecchetti is also responsible for one of the four principle ballet methods: Cecchetti, Vaganova, Bournonville and Royal Ballet.

This Kirov Production features some handy traditional turns. Carabosse is played by a man, the Lilac Fairy appears in winged tutu (as opposed to a character costume), and the children may notice the prince is not named “Florimund” as he is elsewhere. Here he is Prince Desire. It’s also funny that the courtly drama figures in more obviously, and it’s all the more pronounced because the lighting schemes go from high contrast to dark. The dance of Carabosse’s minions that leads to Aurora’s sleeping curse is fascinating. The music answers it with the Lilac Fairy’s promise to protect Aurora and the sequence is very close in spirit to the way I tell the story to the kids. Kindness is good and measured—you know what I mean.

This Bolshoi production is also quite dark and dramatic but not particularly luxurious. I won’t give it too much time here because there are a few odd skips in the video that I don’t think are due to my old computer. That said, it plays all the way through so you can see the whole ballet here.

Two of today’s most famous dancers, Roberto Bolle and Diana Vishneva, star in this Paris Opera Ballet production of Sleeping Beauty. As the most prominently credited writer of the fairy tale hails from France (Charles Perrault) it makes sense France’s national ballet company produces a proud rendition, filled with especially French details. Notice how the costumes change fashion between the first act, the second act set 16 years later, and the third act set 100 years thereafter. One interesting detail: in this production Carabosse is played by a female character dancer and when the Lilac Fairy puts the princess and kingdom sleep, she puts Carabosse and her evil entourage to sleep, too.

I hope you can watch some of this ballet with your children. I can’t tell you how excited they are to study it in class. And when the second act begins and you hear the “Sleeping Beauty Waltz” you’ll be able to tell them about the Disney song and it’ll all seem the more familiar and accessible. And you’ll sound like a genius who knows everything in the world!

Have a lovely time with your wonderful children!

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