The Sleeping Beauty / Live from the Bolshoi at West End Cinema

Choreography:  Marius Petipa

Music: Peter Tchaikovsky

Debut: Maryinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia  1890

An undeniably important ballet in the history of the art, The Sleeping Beauty has been presented time and again for over a century. The ballet has been reinterpreted by every major company since its first production in the late 1890s, and is a beloved gem in the canon of ballet. The New Yorker’s Andrew Porter describes it as, “the grandest, fullest and finest achievement of Classical ballet-it’s definitive statement…ballet’s Bible.”

The Sleeping Beauty (or “La Belle au Bois Dormant”) is traditionally presented in three acts, but the charming and energetic third act is often excerpted and presented as “Aurora’s Wedding.” Petipa’s choreography (most productions remain very true to his original) cleverly draws from Sleeping Beauty’s fellow fairy tales, featuring lovely divertissements by Cinderella and her Prince Charming, Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood and others of Charles Perrault’s Mother Goose characters.

Porter wonders how Sleeping Beauty stacks up against other quintessential ballets. Swan Lake, Cinderella and others, he claims, “symbolically enshrine truth about human experience and human behavior…” He asks, “Can we find a moral in The Sleeping Beauty beyond that guest lists should be kept up-to-date lest awkwardness result?” He claims that Tchaikovsky, who happily catered to extremely detailed composition instruction by choreographer Petipa, clearly expresses his own answer through his score. “[Tchaikovsky’s] Sleeping Beauty,” he says, “is a struggle between good and evil, between forces of light and forces of darkness, represented by the benevolent Lilac Fairy and the wicked fairy Carabosse.”

Thanks to the Bolshoi Ballet, which has begun to broadcast live performances from its magnificent, newly restored theatre in Moscow to movie screens around the globe, new audiences can make their own call on the ballet’s moral. And though nothing can compare to the excitement of viewing a ballet performance in the theatre itself, ballet can only stand to benefit from the greater exposure that such broadcasts provide.

My afternoon at DC’s West End Cinema was pure pleasure. Svetlana Zakharova’s Aurora was flawless. David Hallberg, the first American principal at the Bolshoi, was excellent despite his eerily weird facial expressions. Highlights, aside from the magnificent spectacle of the theatre and stage themselves, also included the gorgeous Princess Florine (Bluebird’s lovely partner), Puss in Boots and the Gold, Silver, Sapphire, and Diamond Fairies. I wasn’t moved by the stony Lilac Fairy , however, and even Carabosse’s superb pantomime (the role, as is tradition, was played by a man in travesti) was, alas, still boring pantomime to me!

Overall, I’m thrilled for the opportunity to see more ballet and plan to attend the next Bolshoi broadcast. My next wish is that other companies will follow suit and help expose new audiences – not only to classics like The Sleeping Beauty, but also to the exciting new work of contemporary artists.

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