Behind the Story – The Sleeping Beauty
Almost 130 years since it was first staged, The Sleeping Beauty has become one of the world’s most popular ballets. Its origins are unknown, as it was verbally passed down through the millennia and not published until the 17th Century. Tchaikovsky’s score is adored—even being used in Disney’s version of the fairy tale, and the challenging choreography is as demanding as it is beautiful. In fact, the Rose Adagio that the princess performs in Act I is considered one of the most difficult adagios in any ballet.
Here are five more interesting facts about the ballet that you may not know:
- The Sleeping Beauty ballet was adapted from the 1697 Charles Perrault tale, “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood.” Tchaikovsky wrote the music, and his long-time collaborator, Marius Petipa, choreographed the dances. It was first presented at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg Russia on January 15, 1890.
- The premiere of The Sleeping Beauty was met with favorable critiques, especially compared to Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky’s first ballet. However, it was still not a resounding success at first. After Tchaikovsky’s death in 1893, the ballet grew in popularity and would be performed 200 times over the next 10 years.
- The Sleeping Beauty was Tchaikovsky’s longest ballet. Including intermissions, it clocked in at nearly four hours! Today, ballet companies around the world generally edit the score. Adam Sklute’s staging for Ballet West is approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes, including a 20 minute intermission.
- As you listen to Tchaikovsky’s score, you’ll notice two musical themes that represent good (Lilac Fairy) and evil (Carabosse). They repeat whenever the respective character is on stage. Musically, this device is called a “leitmotif,” and it helps to serve as an important thread to underline the plot.
- Ballet West’s opening weekend marks the 80th Anniversary of The Sleeping Beauty’s debut in the United States. The first complete Sleeping Beauty was designed by Catherine Littlefield and presented by the Philadelphia Ballet on February 12, 1937, almost 50 years after the premiere in Russia.