There must be many lovers of ballet in the Bay Area who are delighted that San Francisco Ballet is reviving its production of The Sleeping Beauty this season – a work which embodies all that’s wonderful about ballet. With its sumptuous courtly setting, elegant choreography, gorgeous costumes, and what’s acknowledged to be some of the greatest music that Tchaikovsky ever wrote, this romantic fairytale has become one of the best-loved ballets in the world.
Regarded as the first truly Russian ballet, The Sleeping Beauty – at the time of its opening – was likened in style to Faberge’s exquisite ornamental creations which so delighted the Tsar and the Russian elite in the latter part of the 19th century. The ballet epitomized the treasured objets d’art which so delicately replicated, within an egg-shaped shell, the luxurious lives of these aristocrats. As Jennifer Homans – author of Apollo’s Angels – writes: “Fabergé reproduced the court in miniature; Beauty put it on stage.”
The Sleeping Beauty as a ballet was conceived by Ivan Vsevolozhsky, director of the Imperial Theatres in St Petersburg at the time of its creation, and based on Charles Perrault’s La belle au bois dormant, first published in 1697. Vsevolozhsky wrote the libretto, designed the original costumes, and commissioned Tchaikovsky to write the score. They both met with Marius Petipa – at that time ballet master and chief choreographer of the Imperial Theatres – in November 1888, but so inspired was Tchaikovsky that by the time of this meeting, he’d already sketched out the first few scenes. By June the following year, he had sketched out the entire ballet, and by the end of August the orchestration was complete. It truly was a labour of love, and little wonder that his friend and firm supporter, Herman Laroche, referred to the score as “one of Tchaikovsky’s pearls”. The ballet premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg on January 15th, 1890.
San Francisco Ballet’s production of The Sleeping Beauty is choreographed by Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer, Helgi Tomasson, after Marius Petipa. This production premiered at the War Memorial Opera House on March 13th, 1990, with scenic and costume design by Jens-Jacob Worsaae, using some of the designs which he originally created for the Royal Danish Ballet.
Tomasson is indeed fortunate to have a wealth of balletic talent at his disposal, enabling him to cast five different pairs of Principal dancers in the roles of Princess Aurora and Prince Desiré – each of whom is appearing in these roles for the first time in the current production.
Taking the Grammy Award-winning San Francisco Ballet Orchestra through this most beautiful of scores is the Company’s Music Director and Principal Conductor Martin West, regarded as one of the foremost conductors of ballet today. Having received part of his training at the St Petersburg Conservatory of Music, he must surely possess an enviable depth of knowledge and understanding of the music of the great Russian composer, who also studied at there.
San Francisco Ballet’s production of The Sleeping Beauty runs at The War Memorial Opera House from January 23rd to 28th. For more information, and to reserve tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.
Photographs by Erik Tomasson from the 2007 repertory production of The Sleeping Beauty
Information sourced from:
San Francisco Ballet program notes
Tchaikovsky – an autobiography by Anthony Holden
Apollo’s Angels – A History of Ballet – by Jennifer Homans