Favourite ballet: The Sleeping Beautyon May 24th, 2012 at 11:23 am
Have you noticed the recent renaissance of the fairytale? At the cinema one can see two versions of Snow White, while on television Once Upon a Time is building a solid fan base. In a recent episode I enjoyed the classic scene of Prince Charming awakening Snow White with a kiss, and it reminded me of the ballet I have loved since childhood: The Sleeping Beauty.
Composed by Tchaikovsky in 1889, the second of his three ballets (with Swan Lake and The Nutcracker), the story of the ballet is based on the classic fairytale of Sleeping Beauty. But from where did that fairytale originate?
Like many stories that have resonated through history, this was originally a folk tale that was then taken up by a writer and moulded into a fairytale. French writer Charles Perrault (1628–1703) is commonly regarded as the pioneer of the fairytale genre. He wrote and published several stories based on commonly told folk stories, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots and the story we now know as The Sleeping Beauty, which he entitled La belle au bois dormant (The beauty sleeping in the wood).
Then, in 1812, the brothers Grimm published a collection of fairytales, and in it they included the story of Sleeping Beauty, whom they called Little Briar Rose. Various other versions exist, but it is the Grimm one that has been most dominant in popular culture.
Tchaikovsky based his ballet on the Grimm version, but he was keen to also tip his hat to the earlier Perrault story. So he included other Perrault characters in the ballet, such as Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella. The result is a ballet that lasts four hours, which has sadly resulted in most productions cutting down Tchaikovsky’s original.
The ballet was first performed in 1890, and to this day it remains a popular choice for the world’s greatest ballet companies. Have a look on YouTube if you’d like to get a feel for the ballet – there are some wonderful recordings available there. I particularly like the Bolshoi Ballet clips, because I remember seeing this company perform when I was a girl and the experience was simply breathtaking. As a young girl I took ballet classes with my friends Colette and Miguèle for many years, and we would put on shows together – I would dream of playing Princess Aurora in the ballet, to be awoken by a kiss from Prince Florimund.