The Frenchman Charles Perrault documented many famous Fairy Tales, and plenty of ballets that used his inspiration for their stories. Somehow, though, his name comes up most for Sleeping Beauty. I feel this is worth mentioning because when you see a ballet company perform Sleeping Beauty you can see it performed with one of two different sets of choreography and character names. Despite these differences, the story elements stay mostly unchanged. I begin this way because, when I first saw Sleeping Beauty, I was very impressed with one scene which is not always included in every production: one scene in which the prince has to find Aurora at the top of the unkept palace. He has to trudge and climb up the grand staircase where vines have grown and grasses have gathered and many little animal families have made dens and nests for themselves. He does this hard climbing guided by the light provided by the Lilac Fairy and powered by his devotion to the princess he’s dreamed about. With this, let’s start our STEAM extras!
Science: Gardens, Growth and Pruning
When the prince stumbles upon the palace the gardens have not been pruned or trimmed for 100 years. The gardens have been let to grow all over it, and you can barely see the palace is there because all the plants cover it up..
When I was young, I remember thinking that pruning was just a terrible thing to do to a plant, but it actually makes the plant stronger. It’s one of those things that looks hard, but in the end is good. When plants are young (baby plants) you leave them to grow. Look at this wonderful video of a plant growing from seed to see one very big thing: that plant is moving ALL THE TIME. It never stops. This is a time-lapse video which means it was a video taken over a long time, and then the video speeds up the movement it sees. This means that when you see a sprout become a plant in real time it’s moving so slowly you can’t really see the movement, but when you see it here, it’s clear the plant is moving!
When plants get big enough, they grow leaves and the leaves help them get energy from the sun while the roots help them get water and other energy from the soil. But…after a while, the leaves change. Maybe a caterpillar takes a few bites off a leaf and that leaf turns brown and dies. Or, maybe a bird pecks at a branch and that branch gets sick. If you leave that bitten leaf or that damaged branch on the plant, the plant would put all its energy into fixing the leaf or branch, even though it’s going to die. If we cut the dying piece off the plant, the plant will use all its energy in its healthiest parts and that’s why we prune. Not all cutting is bad! But it’s not all good either.
You have to CHOOSE WISELY when, how, and what parts you prune so that you help the plant and not hurt it. If you cut a healthy piece off the plant, you might not be helping it at all. This video says pruning is like surgery.
In the ballet, to show that Aurora sleeps so long that generations pass, the characters wear different costumes. We like to call fashions for other eras–eras from long, long ago–“period costume.” This means a style or shape of clothing was special for a special time. You’ll see some productions of Sleeping Beauty show the princess and her family wearing big curly hairdos, capes and boots like the Three Musketeers–this is a style popular in the 1600s. Then, when the prince finds Aurora and they have their wedding, they’ll wear white, powdered wigs, which was fashionable in the court (royalty) during the 1700s. This is how the ballet proves 100 years have passed!
Also, as always, here is a a coloring book including the steps we learn in this month’s classes with SLEEPING BEAUTY!
Everyone likes to mention the Disney movie Sleeping Beauty when we study this ballet, and I love to use the movie as an opportunity to talk about SIMILARITIES and DIFFERENCES. This is a kindergarten level area of discussion but preschoolers are also often engaging in the topic so it’s not off limits to any age. The most notable difference is the ballet’s villain: Carabosse (see the photo slideshow below for more inspiration on this point). Students also like to bring up the difference in the number of Fairies: the movie has 3 important fairies while the ballet has between 7 and 11 fairies. But the biggest literal difference between the movie and the ballet is how long Aurora stays asleep. In the movie, she might be asleep for as little as 4 hours or as long as a few days: it’s not very clear in the movie. But in the ballet Aurora sleeps for 100 YEARS–this is as long is takes for the prince who is right for her to be BORN. What that means is the princes she meets at her 16th birthday party, the same princes she dances the Rose Adagio with, they will get married (to other princesses) and have babies for many generations before she is awakened to meet the grown prince she’ll marry. So, let’s do some guessing about how many generations Aurora sleeps through. If we guess each prince is 20 years old when they have their own prince we can make a guess at how many GENERATIONS will pass in the 100 years Aurora sleeps. It’s also worth
Slideshow: Costume Art with Carabosse
It’s worth noting that most recent productions make Carabosse a female, but in ballet history, it was a role for men. In fact, you might notice that my Carabosse puppet in our puppet story is one side Carabosse and the other side Blue Bird. This is to honor a piece of ballet history. Enrico Cecchetti is an important person in ballet and one of the special things he did was perform Carabosse AND the role of the Blue Bird, which is known as the hardest choreography for men in all classical ballet!