When people hear Sleeping Beauty, they think of the classic 1959 Walt Disney movie. But what many don’t know is that French author Charles Perrault originally wrote the story in 1697, and that the Brothers Grimm later popularized it.
The subject of countless films, musical interpretations, plays, and artwork, this classic fairy tale and love story provides the ideal framework for a full-length classical ballet. Originally choreographed by the legendary Marius Petipa to the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the ballet’s premiere took place at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on Jan. 15, 1890.
More than 125 years later, Ballet San Antonio Artistic Director Willy Shives has put his own creative twist on the classic work. Shives’ troupe will present its rendition of The Sleeping Beauty Feb. 17-19, 2017, at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
After celebrating his one-year anniversary with Ballet SA at the end of The Nutcracker’s December run, Shives knew that his dancers would rise to the challenge of his next project.
“The Sleeping Beauty is beyond challenging for the dancers,” Shives told the Rivard Report. “It’s very pure, classical dancing. … There’s really no room for error.”
The fairy tale is widely known: A king and queen are blessed with the birth of a daughter, but the bliss is short-lived when an evil sorceress places a curse on the young princess. She is to die after pricking her finger on a spinning wheel’s spindle before sunset on her 16th birthday. To prevent this, the king places his daughter in hiding under the care of fairies, who cast a spell that puts the princess in an ageless sleep until awakened by a prince’s kiss.
Often, the ballet version diverges from the original in its composition: The evil Carabosse (Maleficent in the Disney version) and benevolent Lilac Fairy foreshadow most of the story in the ballet’s prologue. Instead of a Disney-esque narrative that slowly unfolds, the audience is in the know right from the get-go.
Act I introduces the princess Aurora to four potential suitors and depicts in detail the intricacies of the two fairies’ spells. Act II occurs 100 years later when the Lilac Fairy chooses Prince Désiré to awaken Aurora and the entire kingdom from their slumber. Act III, Aurora and Désiré’s wedding, has little to no narrative; the two celebrate their nuptials with their fairy-tale friends, and all live happily ever after.
Eliminating the guessing game as far as the storyline goes allows the audience to focus more intently on the choreographer’s creative prowess and the dancers’ craft. Showcasing his dancers’ talent is precisely what Shives had in mind when he first began designing the production.
“It was such a hard decision when it came to leads, because the choreography is so demanding,” Shives said. “My dancers are all so beautiful, and they work so hard. I love them as artists, and I wanted them all to be in the lead.”
The role of Aurora is to be shared among principal dancer Sally Turkel, soloist Kate Maxted, and corps de ballet dancer Sofie Bertolini. Soloist Kathleen Martin and corps dancers Jenna Stamm and Bryony McCullough will share the interpretation of Carabosse, and Lydia Relle, Martin, and Turkel will dance the Lilac Fairy.
“It’s probably the hardest role for the ballerina, because she’s doing five 15-minute pas de deux. It never stops,” Shives said. “I’m excited to see how far they’ve come.”
The male dancers portraying Prince Désiré and leading Turkel, Maxted, and Bertolini through those pas de deux are Mayim Stiller and Ihosvany Rodriguez.
There was no rest for the wicked (or good) fairies after a demanding fall/winter season that included Don Quixote and The Nutcracker. Shives and his team started the new year with energy and determination and have been working tirelessly to bring their unique interpretation of The Sleeping Beauty to the Tobin Center.
Tickets for all four performances are on sale now and can be purchased online or at the Tobin Center box office Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.