Love’s First Kiss: The NYCB Does Sleeping Beauty

The classic fairytale of the princess condemned by an evil witch to eternal slumber, and saved by true love’s kiss, has had a variety of adaptations. For example, in history of art The Sleeping Beauty has been depicted by Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1890) and John Collier (1921); on screen Disney’s legendary 1959 animation was revived with the 2014 live action spin-off Maleficent, and the most enchanting of adaptations is the ballet version, with the music composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Ivan Vsevolozhsky, Director of the Imperial Theaters in Russia from 1881 until 1889, came up with the idea of transforming Charles Perrault’s story La Belle au Bois Dormant into a ballet, and ever since its first performance, The Sleeping Beauty has always been a cornerstone in the discipline of classical dance.

The New York City Ballet took to the stage, around Valentine’s Day, this beguiling romantic fable, choreographed by Peter Martins (after Marius Petipa), with George Balanchine’s touch for The Garland Dance. Maestro Daniel Capps majestically conducted his orchestra to sustain the dancing narrative, embellished by Patricia Zipprodt’s Costume Design, Michael Avedon’s Make-up, Hair and Wigs, along with Mark Stanley’s Lighting.

The three acts, condescend in two, retrace key moments of Aurora’s story: The Christening, The Spell, The Vision (when the Prince is shown by the Lilac Fairy the Sleeping Beauty), The Awakening and The Wedding.

Megan Fairchild gracefully pirouetted as Princess Aurora, creating sparkles of wonders with Prince Désiré played by Joaquin De Luz. Enthralling, elegant and vibrant was Teresa Reichlen’s portrayal of the Lilac Fairy; whilst Sarah Mearns, modishly performed as the wicked Carabosse, whose sorcery was contrasted by the exquisitely talented ballerinas and their solo-magical moments. These include Emilie Gerrity (The Fairy of Tenderness), Alston Macgill (The Fairy of Vivacity), Megan Johnson (The Fairy of Generosity), Sarah Villwock (The Fairy of Eloquence), Alexa Maxwell (The Fairy of Courage).

The ballet scenario, based on the Brothers Grimm’s version of Perrault’s work entitled ‘Dornröschen‘ allow King Florestano (Ask la Cour) and The Queen (Gretchen Smith) to survive the 100-year sleep, to celebrate the Princess’ wedding to the Prince. The Baroque setting, featuring luxurious sets and costumes, enhance the tribute to fabulist fascination, since other characters from Perrault’s tales attend the nuptial feast, such as The White Cat (Claire von Enck) and Puss in Boots (Devin Alberda), Little Red Riding Hood (Zoe Feigelson) and the Wolf (Alec Knight), Princess Florine (Brittany Pollack) and the Bluebird (Daniel Ulbricht), The Court Jesters (Harrison Ball, Troy Schumacher, Sebastian Villarini-Velez).

The original story, as we know, had several dark and morbid twists that were later polished away by the various adaptations. For instance, Perrault did have the prince awaken Little Briar Rose with a kiss and marry her. They also had two children. What is excluded from the ballet, and other reworks of the story, is that Aurora’s mother-in-law was part ogre, and demanded a cook to prepare the Princess and her children to be served as a meal. When the cook served animal meat instead, the vengeful woman created a pit filled with deadly creatures for them. However the Prince caught her, and in a panic she leapt into the pit to be killed.

Digging further into the inspiration of classic fairytales, the father of them all was Giambattista Basile, an Italian 16th century poet whose stories were first brought to the big screen by Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales. Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty is based on Basile’s Sun, Moon, and Talia, where the Princess falls into a sleep from a piece of flax stuck under her fingernail. When the Prince comes, he sexually assaults her while she is unconscious. While he is away she wakes to find she has become a mother, after one of her twins sucked on her finger and removed the flax. In this version, it is the Prince’s jealous wife who orders the cook to serve Talia and her children for a meal.

These macabre angles definitely would be more suitable for the avantgarde techniques of contemporary dance forms, that have pushed beyond convention the expression of the body. Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, could be the inspirers for a ghoulish Sleeping Beauty mise-en-scène.
Hitherto, the classical ballet romantic version never ceases to magnetize audiences into an oneiric dimension. The New York City Ballet’s vibrant production is the epitome of the triumph of joy through perilous contingencies. Aurora means “dawn,” and her presence  on stage emanates the coveted influx of light through darkness, during the entire  movement-language-storytelling. Fouetté, jeté, chassé, plié, développé, captivate audiences as the grand toe-dancing narration unfolds on Tschaikovsky’s glorious score. The Sleeping Beauty at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater, just like true love, will conquer all…not just Balletomanes.