The ballet The Sleeping Beauty holds a notable place in the history of ballet, not only as a great work in its own right but also as a defining moment in many lives.
It was the first successful ballet composed by Tchaikovsky.
It was the first ballet that the great impresario Serge Diaghilev ever saw.
Rudolf Nureyev made his debut in the West dancing in The Sleeping Beauty.
Lucia Chase, the founder of American Ballet Theatre made her professional debut in The Sleeping Beauty.
The reopening performance of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1946, following the end of the second World War, was not an opera performance but The Sleeping Beauty.
This was also the first time that the Sadler's Wells Ballet danced as the Royal Ballet.
The Sleeping Beauty was the first ballet to launch the Royal Ballet in the United States.
The Sleeping Beauty was the first ballet seen by a sickly 8 year old child named Anna Pavlova. After the performance she decided that she wanted to become a ballet dancer.
The first time George Balanchine appeared on stage was as Cupid, sitting on a gold cage, in. The Sleeping Beauty
For Galina Ulanova, the great Russian ballerina, the first ballet she saw was The Sleeping Beauty.
The great ballet master Enrico Ceccetti danced Carabosse and was the first Bluebird in the original Maryinski production. He celebrated his 50th anniversary as a soloist by recreating the role of Carabosse in Diaghilev's The Sleeping Princess in London.
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Synopsis of the Ballet
The king anxiously awaits the birth of his only child. At last the infant arrives. The king calls for a grand christening celebration to which all the fairies of the kingdom are invited to bestow their blessings on his daughter, Aurora. As the fairies present their gifts of beauty, grace, generosity, song, and temperament, they are interrupted by the arrival of Carabosse; she is enraged and insulted that the king forgot to invite her to the ceremony. Carabosse announces her curse that Aurora will one day prick her finger and die. Luckily the Lilac Fairy has yet to give her present. She declares that although Aurora will prick her finger she will not die. Instead she will fall into a deep sleep from which she will be awoken after a hundred years by the kiss of a prince.
Carabosse and her entourage prepare the poisoned needle and hide it in a bouquet of flowers for Aurora.
It is Aurora's 18th birthday. The palace gardens are decorated and the celebrations begin. Aurora receives four suitors who honor her with gifts of roses. During the festivities Aurora clutches Carabosse's flowers, pricks her finger and faints away. Carabosse reveals herself in triumph and vanishes. The Lilac Fairy returns to fulfill her promise. Aurora is carried inside the palace where she and the court will sleep until the arrival of the prince.
One hundred years later, Prince Florimund is out hunting with some companions. There in the forest he sees a vision of the most beautiful woman he has ever imagined; it is Aurora. Florimund dances with Aurora and falls instantly in love. When the vision disappears Florimund pleads with the Lilac Fairy to take him to Aurora. Florimund discovers the overgrown castle, but must first do battle with Carabosse, who would prevent him from entering. Once inside the castle Florimund finds Aurora and awakens her with a kiss. Florimund declares his love for Aurora and the king and queen give their blessing for their marriage.
The palace must be prepared for the wedding. The dust of the ages must be cleaned, and a wedding dress must be made for Aurora. The Fairies return for the celebration along with the fairy tale characters of the Bluebird and Princess Florine, Puss in Boots and the White Cat. Everyone joins in a dance of celebration. Finally Florimund and Princess Aurora are married and receive the blessing of the Lilac Fairy.
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Gerard Charles's thoughts on restaging The Sleeping Beauty
Having been trained at the Royal Ballet School, where the ballet The Sleeping Beauty was held in the greatest esteem not only as a great classical work but as the ballet that was integral to the history of the Royal Ballet, it is inevitable that I hold its traditions in some awe. The ballet offers some of the greatest challenges in the classical repertoire for both the principals and soloists with plenty of action for the corps de ballet. Aurora is probably the greatest ballerina role, demanding as it does great athletic ability combined with the purist of classical technique and unadorned simplicity.
However, the truth is that there is much choreographic "filler" in The Sleeping Beauty, many details of which have not come down to us today. It was the style of the day to provide divertissements for every dancer who needed one, and then several for the featured dancer, often at the dancer's whim without concern for the overall structure of the piece. In addition there was a great deal of pageantry that was impressive by the sheer number of performers paraded on stage in elaborate costumes. Sadly or not, today's economics do not allow for such extended sections of spectacle.
The music weighs in at 2 ½ hours without intermission, which is just too much for most of today's audiences. There have been many one act condensed versions of the ballet, with a title such as Aurora's Wedding, featuring highlights including the fairy variations and divertissements of Act Three.
The Sleeping Beauty was viewed as a definitive statement and inspiration for the next generation of choreographers. However, when Petipa created The Sleeping Beauty he was not making a museum piece but a contemporary ballet entertainment that embraced some of the new things of the day. For instance in the fifth fairy variation, ("Violante", who brings the gift of temperament), Petipa wished to show the sparkling power and darting nature of electricity, then a new innovation that impressed him greatly.
It is not an easy task to maintain the integrity of a great classical ballet and the excitement the work originally inspired, especially for a contemporary audience that has been treated to many modern stimulation. To truly recreate the Petipa version of The Sleeping Beauty would require resources that very few companies today have. The challenge is to maintain the integrity of the dancing while being mindful to the realities of the company that is to perform it. In restaging the work for BalletMet I have tried to maintain the great traditions of the ballet without weighing it down with antique trappings that would seem irrelevant to today's audiences. My goals have been to make as rich a production as possible, to keep what is essential, and to choreographically blend new elements with the traditional ones. I strive to allow the work to entertain without losing sight of its great history and significance.
In the original production, the opportunity to show dance was considered more important than adhering to the story. Although Perrault was credited with the story line, Vsevolojsky and Petipa's libretto was quite freely adapted from the original fairy tale. The story of the ballet is just that; many of the changes make good theatrical sense, and I certainly have not sought to totally rethink the plot. That stated, there are bothersome moments in the story line that I have tried to reconcile. One such inconsistency would be why the Lilac Fairy seems to have two opportunities to bestow gifts on the child while all other fairies are limited to just one. Many choreographers have sought solutions to this problem; I have chosen to go with what I consider to be the simplest. The Lilac Fairy is interrupted by Carabosse and therefore does not have a chance to bestow her gift until after Carabosse has done her worst.
Enricco Cecchetti was the first to dance Carabosse. The character was killed off early enough in Act Two so that Cecchetti could be ready to perform the Bluebird in Act Three. For years, by tradition, a male played the part; in more recent stagings it has been danced by a woman, often of equal youth as the other fairies. Should she be a glamorous, albeit dark, equal to the other fairies or a truly hideous character whom no one would invite to a christening, or any other event? Powerful as the character is at the beginning of the story, she is often killed off with a single thrust of a sword by the Prince who, up to that point in the ballet, has had no history with her. Much as I would like to believe it possible, I do not think that evil is so quickly disposed of from the world. I have chosen to cast a man as Carabosse and for her not to die. Although for Aurora and her Prince, Carabosse loses her power over their lives, she lives on to influence another day.
I find the music for the Panorama is the most beautiful in the ballet. It has always been used to accompany a boat sailing through an elaborate set change. In the case of Petipa's original the scene change took longer than there was music so Tchaikovsky had to compose some more. I have chosen to move this music to the moment the Prince first sees and is captivated by the vision of Aurora. As he is a master of the pas de deux, I have also asked David Nixon to choreograph this dance; his lyrical partnering is sure to capture the spirit of the music.
Children have played a large part in productions of The Sleeping Beauty (particularly in the Garland Dance of Act One) and I wanted to incorporate them from the beginning, not just as a cute distraction but as important identifiable characters. I was particularly drawn to using children as Carabosse's retinue, a plague of definite characters as opposed to the two or four monsters that often accompany her onto the stage.
While not striving for a new standard or world shattering interpretation of the ballet, I trust my staging will captivate its audiences and allow them to see afresh this gem of a ballet. I am delighted that this version of The Sleeping Beauty awakens with the kiss of spring just as Aurora will from her Prince's kiss.
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The Sleeping Beauty, Story Origins
A wedding brings many a fairy tale to a successful, if open ended, conclusion and such is the case of the ballet The Sleeping Beauty. However, looking back at the original Charles Perrault version of the tale on which the ballet is based, and versions prior to that, the meeting of the Prince and Beauty is but the halfway mark of the story. Details even before that point have changed over the course of time.
Perrault published La Belle au bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty) in Paris, in January 1697, as the first of eight stories in a book titled Histoires ou Contes du temps passé. Avec de Moralitez. As with many of his other tales, he owes a great deal to a collection of fairy tales published by the Italian Giambattista Basile sixty years earlier. In the case of The Sleeping Beauty, they both tell variations of the 1528 romance Perceforest and can trace roots in the story of Brynhild in the Volsunga Saga.
When Brynhild was banished to the earth, to marry as a human, her greatest fear was that she would wed a coward. To protect her against this, Odin placed her in a castle surrounded by a barrier of flames. He then preserved Brynhild's youthful beauty by touching her with a thorn that put her in a deep sleep. Once a man was brave enough to pass through the flame and enter the castle he would remove her armor and fall instantly in love with her. This would cause her to awaken and fall in love with him, which indeed happened when Sigurd braved the flames.
The Perceforest story is entitled Histoire de Troylus et de Zellandine. The deities Venus, Lucina and Themis are invited to a feast to honor the birth of the king's daughter, Zellandine. Themis is upset because she is not given a knife like the other guests and thus curses the child. The curse is of an unknown nature so no attempt can be made to mitigate it. A flax splinter causes the young princess to fall to sleep. Many years later Prince Troylus happens upon Zellandine in her tower, and when he can not rouse her he acts in an unrestrained manner with her sleeping body. As a result they have a child.
Giambattista Basile, born in Naples about 1575, was a much traveled poet, soldier and administrator. He died in 1632 while serving as Governor of the Giugliano district near Naples. Some 50 of his tales were published posthumously and became known in the 1674 edition as The Pentamerone. His version of The Sleeping Beauty is tale five from Day Five. In addition The Pentamerone includes original versions of Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast and Puss in Boots.
In Basile's version, a great king commands the wise men of his country to confer about the destiny of his daughter, Talia. They conclude she will meet her peril from a splinter of flax. The king therefore bans flax from his castle. However, when the young princess sees an old woman spinning, she is intrigued as she has never seen such a thing before. On touching the yarn she gets a splinter of flax under her nail and falls dead. Grief stricken, her father places her in a velvet chair, locks her in the castle and abandons it. An unspecified time later, another king who is already married to another woman is out hunting. He comes upon the sleeping princess, Talia. However much he tries, she will not awaken and so, in Basile's words, he "plucked from her the fruits of love," thus fathering two children, Sole and Luna. He then departs and returns to his wife, the queen. In trying to suckle the breast of the comatose mother, one of the children instead sucks on her finger, thereby removing the splinter of flax that had enchanted her and allowing Talia to awaken. The king returns to the forest one day and discovers his forgotten second family awake. Suspicious of her husband, the queen summons Sole and Luna to the court and orders the cook to butcher them and serve them to their father as delicacies. The cook cannot bring himself to do this, hides the children and instead prepares two goat kids. The king finds the food delicious and his wife encourages him saying "Eat up, you're eating what's your very own." He replies "I know very well I'm eating what's my own, because you have brought nothing to this house."
The wife, now furious, summons Talia to the court and prepares to burn her on a pyre. Talia protests that she was asleep during the whole episode and therefore blameless. Partially in response to Talia's wishes and mostly to gain her rival's fine clothes, the queen allows Talia to undress, which she does slowly, playing for time and screaming all the while. As she gets down to her last garment, the king finally responds to her cries. He demands the whereabouts of his children, and when told that he has eaten them he throws the queen into the fire. As the cook is about to meet a similar fate for complicity, he tells where he has hidden the children. The family is reunited, Talia and the king marry, and the cook is promoted.
Charles Perrault (1628 - 1703) was a retired civil servant and member of the Académie française. He begins his version of the story by telling us, in detail, the difficulties Beauty's parents had in conceiving a child. The old fairy arrives at the party, but she is upset by not receiving the same gold cutlery the other fairies received. She therefore delivers her curse. Now Beauty pricks her finger on the spindle to be caste into her sleep. Perrault turns the vengeful wife into the Prince's mother who, as Perrault puts it, "is of the Ogre race, a group known for eating the meat of young children." The story follows as in Basile's, the children are now Aurora and Jour. The mother is somewhat more of a gourmand and demands that Aurora be prepared with a Sauce Robert. Again the cook spares the children and substitutes goat and lamb. The mother now wishes to eat the once sleeping beauty, who meekly agrees to her fate believing that her children have already perished. The cook once again intervenes and serves up a deer in her place. When the ogress finds out, she is furious and prepares a cauldron of toads, eels, vipers and snakes for all to be disposed into. The Prince, who has been absent at war, arrives in the nick of time to save his young family. His mother dives into the cauldron and is "immediately devoured by the horrible creatures she had put into it."
Since Perrault, the Grimm brothers (Jacob & Wilhelm), who were avid fans of fairy tales, published their collection of stories in three volumes, in 1812, 1815 and 1822. They presented The Sleeping Beauty as the less macabre but more romantic Dornröschen (Little Briar Rose). Here the Prince awakens sleeping Beauty with a kiss (which is sometimes omitted), they are married and live happily ever after.
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The history of the ballet
Early productions of The Sleeping Beauty
La belle au bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty)
Choreography: Pierre Gardel,
La belle au bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty)
Choreography: Jean Pierre Aumer
Music: Ferdinand Herold
Libretto: Scribe after Perrault
Scenery & costumes: Pierre Ciceri
Opera, Paris, Apr 27 1829
Sleeping Beauty (La belle au bois dormant)
Choreography: Anatole Petit after Aumer
Music: Ferdinand Herold
Libretto: Scribe after Perrault
Drury Lane Theatre, London
La Belle au bois dormant (Spiashchaia krasavitsa)
Choreography: Marius Petipa
Music: Peter I. Tchaikovsky
Libretto: Marius Petipa and Ivan Vsevolozhsky after Perrault
Designs: Ivan Andreyev, Mikhail Bocharov, Konstantin Ivanov, Henrich Levogt, Matvei Shishkov & Ivan Vsevolozhsky
Maryinski Theater, St. Petersburg, Jan 3, 1890
Principal Dancers: Carlotta Brianza (Aurora), Pavel Gerdt (Prince Désiré), Marie Petipa (Lilac Fairy), Enrico Cecchetti (Carabosse & Bluebird), Varvara Nikitina (Princess Florine)
The Sleeping Beauty was treated to balletic interpretations before that of the Petipa/Tchaikovsky version, but none of the prior versions were to enjoy the longevity of popularity of the 1890 Russian version.
The earliest ballet based on the story of The Sleeping Beauty that I have been able to trace is an 1815 production at the Paris Opera by Pierre Gardel with music by Carafa. It is not as well documented as a later version choreographed by Jean Pierrre Aumer for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1829. The story was adapted by the great French writer Eugène Scribe and set to music composed by Ferdinand Herold (La Fille mal gardée). The ballet was a success with the public, but not so with the critics. It employed some very impressive stage illusions which no doubt contributed to its popular success. This production starred Lisa Noblet as the princess, but probably of greater note is that it featured the young Marie Taglioni as a Naiad in the third act. Taglioni became one of the great stars of the Romantic ballet, as did Nathalie Fitzjames who debuted in the same ballet. She was just ten years old and played the role of Cupid.
The [Russian]Imperial Ballet was supported by the Tsar at an annual cost of some 1 million gold rubles. The Imperial family would attend rehearsals, present graduation prizes and take mistresses from the companies. It was not considered an art but a diversion and certainly not a forum to experiment or be controversial. Ivan Alexandrovitch Vsevolozhsky, who had gained valuable experience in the diplomatic corps in Paris, was named director of the Imperial Theatres in 1881. Not only skilled as an administrator, Vsevolozhsky was also a playwright, essayist and talented visual artist capable of designing costumes for the theater.
By 1888 Vsevolozhsky was considering dispensing with Petipa as the audiences were not coming to the theaters. However, he decided to give him one more chance and decided that The Sleeping Beauty of Perrault would be a fine vehicle. The work could display the talents of the many fine Russian soloists who were produced under Petipa's guidance, as well as showcase Petipa's great knowledge of classical dance. He also conceived it as a 'no expense spared' production that would recreate the glories of the grand productions of Louis XIV but without the lengthy interpolations by actors and singers as in the 17th century. Although the great Petipa did not at first respond well to the idea of the theater director telling what to create he gradually warmed to the idea of The Sleeping Beauty.
Up until Vsevolozhsky's time as director, many different artists would independently design the decor for a single production with no heed to what the others were doing, nor to the ballet. Music was ordered by the yard from obliging but undistinguished composers. Vsevolozhsky is notable for instituting production councils - securing the collaboration of all the artists involved in producing a ballet with continuity. In the case of The Sleeping Beauty, Vsevolozhsky himself was both librettist and costume designer.
In trying to secure Tchaikovsky's collaboration with the project for the Maryinski Theatre, Vsevolozhsky wrote to Tchaikovsky in May 1888 telling him of his conception of La belle au bois dormant and suggesting music inspired by Lulli, Bach & Rameau. Although a complete libretto was sent him, three months later Tchaikovsky claims never to have received one. Another was soon dispatched to the composer and seems to have been to Tchaikovsky's liking. He wrote, "I should like to tell you straight away how charmed and enthusiastic I am. The idea appeals to me and I wish nothing better than to write the music for it." No formal contract seems to have been inked until after the first two performances were given. For his part, Tchaikovsky received 3,000 rubles and a bonus of 2,000 more for having created such an excellent score.
Following his less than successful collaboration with Reisinger on Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky wanted to ensure the full participation of the choreographer before the music was composed. A meeting was arranged for November 6, 1888 at Vsevolozhsky's house at which time Petipa presented complete instructions for the Prologue of the ballet. At two subsequent meetings in December and January 1889 the rest of the ballet was determined by Petipa. Although fairly detailed, these instructions were written before Petipa had finalized the ballet in his mind and lacked some important information, with some exceptions, such as how long each dance was to be.
An example of Petipa's notes to Tchaikovsky:
Act 2 Scene 3
No. 11 With a new wave of the fairy's magic wand Aurora appears and rushes on stage. 6/8 for 24 [bars]. A voluptuous adagio. Coquettish allegro - ¾ for 48 [bars]. Variation for Aurora.
Coda in 6/8, concluding in 2/4. This is one pas.
No. 12. 'Where is the divine being you showed me?' Very agitated, passionate music. 32 bars for the transition into the panorama.
No.13. The boat is under way. The length of the music depends on the extent of the panorama.
No. 14. With a wave of her wand the fairy orders the gates to be opened. The entrance way is visible. A thick mist enshrouds the stage. A tender melody is heard. 32 bars of largo.
No. 15. Musical entr'acte.
Petipa was used to working closely with the house composers who would change music in rehearsals to suit him. Tchaikovsky worked on his own away from the theater, but must have had contact with Petipa from time to time before completing the work. Tchaikovsky, for his part, adhered to the spirit of the instructions but was able to add his own inventiveness. Where Petipa did specify length of music Tchaikovsky usually oversupplied, such as in the case of the Garland Dance. Petipa requested 16 bars of introduction and 150 bars of waltz. He received 36 bars of introduction and 261 of the waltz.
Tchaikovsky composed the ballet at a fast pace. It is thought he completed the overture and prologue and most of the outline of acts one and two in three weeks. On the final page of his manuscript Tchaikovsky wrote, "Finished the sketches 26 May 1889 in the evening at 8 o'clock. Praise God! In all worked ten days in October, 3 weeks in January, and a week now! In all about 40 days." He also wrote to his benefactress, Mme von Meck, "The subject is so poetic, so inspirational to composition, that I am captivated by it."
Tchaikovsky delivered his final version of the score to the Maryinski act by act as he completed them. The theater was then responsible for making copies, and at some point the conductor, Riccardo Drigo began to revise the music making edits, adding marks of expression and indicating tempi. Some of the edits were probably made at Petipa's urging on first listening to the score, others seem to have occurred closer to the premiere as it was realized that dance sections may not be finished or that the ballet was running too long.
Tchaikovsky's score is the glue of the whole ballet. Petipa laid down very clear constraints on the development for the story, thus containing Tchaikovsky's natural tendency to extend his themes. Whereas in the dance the story is interrupted by extended periods of pure dance, the music is alive with musical motifs for the major characters; at first simply stated, they are woven into a symphonic completeness. The music is not a one dimensional depiction of the story; it is full of multifaceted poetry of images.
Rehearsals for The Sleeping Beauty began in August 1889. Petipa prepared much of the ballet at home before arriving at the studio. He would have a violinist and pianist play the music repeatedly for him as he made patterns with papier maché figures. He would then notate these patterns and would show up to rehearsals with sheaves of papers upon which he would base his dances. He would wait until there was absolute quiet in the rehearsal studio, study his notes intently then jump up shouting "Enough!" He then would compose the dances eight bars at time. Rehearsals progressed well, but Petipa made many demands of Tchaikovsky for alterations to the score.
The premiere of the ballet was slated to take place December 3, 1889. Due to delays in completion of the sets it was delayed several times and eventually was given on January 15, 1890. The Italian ballerina Carlotta Brianza had been lured away from the Bolshoi in Moscow to revive the fortunes of the Maryinski Theatre, which had faltered with their dismissal of their popular star Virginia Zucchi. Brianza was cast as Aurora. Reviews in the press were, of course, mixed. It is hard to believe today that this ballet was once considered controversial. Those who criticized the paucity of previous productions now complained of the lavishness of The Sleeping Beauty, or that the music was too serious. Brianza won praise for her brilliance and technique although what she was given to dance was not so uniformly praised. Tchaikovsky, who felt he had composed "some of my best music" for the ballet, was chagrined by the Tsar's dismissal of the score as "very nice." He wrote in his diary "The Lord be with him."
Despite the carping, the ballet became popular with the public and enjoyed continuous performances in Russia. By November 1892 it had been presented 50 times, an occasion that was marked by the dancers presenting a crown to Tchaikovsky on stage of the Maryinski Theatre.
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World events surrounding the creation of The Sleeping Beauty
North and South Dakota, Montana and Washington became U.S. States
Benjamin Harrison inaugurated as U.S. president
Van Gogh painted Starry Night
Mark Twain published A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Eiffel Tower designed for the Paris World Exhibition
The Sleeping Beauty composed by Tchaikovsky
César Franck wrote his Symphony in D major
Richard Strauss tone poem Don Juan completed
Cosmopolitan Magazine founded
The Wall Street Journal established
Electric sewing machines marketed by Singer
Otis brothers installed an electric elevator in New York City
First celluloid film in the U.S. made
Punch card system invented
Idaho and Wyoming became states. Oklahoma Territory established
The Battle of Wounded Knee
Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks established
Premiere of The Sleeping Beauty in St. Petersburg
Ibsen wrote Hedda Gabler
Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray
Rubber gloves used for the first time in surgery
Global influenza epidemic
First entirely steel-framed building erected in Chicago
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Performance history of The Sleeping Beauty
Choreographically The Sleeping Beauty is rich in many different styles, authentic court dances, elements of romantic ballet in the vision scene, classical ballet technique and abstraction, mimed scenes, grand processions, character and folk dances. For all its latter day lauding as the pinnacle of classical dance and the crowning achievement of Petipa's career, The Sleeping Beauty is at the same time both an homage to French dance of the 17th and 18th centuries (conceived as a tribute to Louis XIV, etc.) and an anticipation of trends that would lead into the 20th century. The latter achieved by allowing subtle characterizations to appear in the classical medium and giving greater expressiveness and freedom. The Sleeping Beauty was the ballet that inspired many of Diaghilev's collaborators in the new and exciting age of ballet ushered in by the Ballets Russes. The Sleeping Beauty was the ballet that defined for them ballet as an important art. Many of Diaghilev's associates point to the collaboration that produced The Sleeping Beauty as the formula for his productions.
In the early days, due to the size and splendor of Petipa's production, the ballet was rarely seen in its entirety outside of Russia. Instead, often under a title such as Aurora's Wedding, highlights such as the Fairy variations, the Rose Adagio, and several divertissements from Act Three were presented. The first full production outside of Russia set to Tchaikovsky's music was staged by Giorgio Saracco at La Scala Milan in 1896, only six years after the premiere of Petipa's ballet. Carlotta Brianza recreated her role as Aurora for this production, partnered by the choreographer himself. The first time any part of the ballet was seen in the United States was when Pavlova presented a much shortened version at the Hippodrome in New York in 1916. The first full length American production was that of Catherine Littlefield for the Philadelphia Ballet in 1937. The ballet became more widely known by the abbreviated Anton Dolin version that Ballet Theatre toured throughout the United States beginning in 1941. (Anton Dolin appeared in his student days in the Diaghilev production in London under his original name of Patrick Kay.)
Diaghilev presented the first full length The Sleeping Beauty in England in 1921, quite a radical step for an impresario who was known for presenting the avant-garde rather than the classics. He and producer Sir Oswald Stoll produced an extremely lush production, the like of which had not been seen in London before and would rest in the memories of balletomanes for years to come. No expense was spared; in fact by opening night the original budget had been spent twice over. Now embracing the classicism he once despised, Diaghilev engaged Nicholas Sergeyev a former dancer and ballet master of the Maryinski Theater, to stage the work and Stravinsky to work on the score. No fewer than five Russian ballerinas were hired to alternate in the role of Aurora. The premiere had to be postponed due to the complications of preparation for this great spectacle. Unfortunately, the production did not meet box office expectations. Diaghilev left London in debt to the theater manager who retained the sets and costumes in lieu of payment. It is thought that Diaghilev changed the title to The Sleeping Princess to distance the ballet from the well known British pantomimes of The Sleeping Beauty. However, Diaghilev maintained it was because he had no beauties in his company.
England's Royal Ballet has a special place for The Sleeping Beauty. It was originally staged when the company was known as the Sadler's Wells Ballet by Nicholas Sergeyev in 1939. Sergeyev had escaped from Russia with notations of the Maryinski versions of the classics such as The Sleeping Beauty. The cast was led by the then nineteen year old Margot Fonteyn. When the newly anointed Royal Ballet was chosen to reopen the Royal Opera House following the Second World War, they chose to present The Sleeping Beauty, a very grand production with new sets and costumes by Oliver Messel. Fonteyn was once again Aurora and her partner Robert Helpman doubled the roles of the Prince and Carabosse. Again the ballet was to serve the company well when it made its debut in the United States in 1949. Once again Fonteyn danced Aurora and the praise for the production raised the company to an international standing.
Despite countless restagings, The Sleeping Beauty has remained very close to its Russian original and has withstood the modern temptation to add psychological meaning. Helgi Tomasson and Kenneth MacMillan both chose distinct time periods to place their productions in so that the 100 years sleep would effect great change in the outside world. Both chose Russia and the period in which it became Westernized. Roland Petit put a comic spin on his Beauty with Aurora's father being a Groucho Marx type figure presiding over a court of clowns, and the glamorous Carabosse, played by Zizi Jeanmaire, included an impersonation of Charlie Chaplin.
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