Among the numerous classical ballets, Sleeping Beauty forms an interesting piece owing to its illustration of academic purity. Its premiere took place in Russia in the 12 months eighteen ninety together with other fascinating pieces such as Swan Lake. The piece is thus heavy in subculture representing a variety of styles and strategies adopted by ballet dancers in the late eighteen hundreds. For most dancers, this is the work of art that stimulated the style of leaping and pirouetting around. Most of the work adopted from this original model still incorporates most of the regular choreography but with an addition of aesthetic and modern history elements. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the key characteristics of Sleeping Beauty together with its origins and influences so as to confirm that such pieces portray the social, historical and political practices of its time.
The Sleeping Beauty is a piece that was composed in the year eighteen eighty eight by the famous Tchaikovsky as requested by the Director of the Imperial Theater found in Moscow; Ivan Vsevolozhsky. The piece is based on a story about the Grimm Brother version of the Frenchman Perrault Charles tale The Sleeping Beauty created in the eighteenth century. When Tchaikovsky read the tale, he became excited and decided to compose a ballet dance related to the same. His previous success in another ballet made Tchaikovsky an unrivaled option for the creation of this ballet. He chose to work with Marius Petipa as the choreographer owing to his outstanding work in Swan Lake. The piece premiered in St. Petersburg in the month of January eighteen ninety, and it was applauded by both the audience and critics for its portrayal of wonderful movements and writing style that were celebrated at the time.
Historical, Social and Political Aspects of Sleeping Beauty
In the world of art, the period beginning around the eighteen hundreds is considered as the Period of Romanticism where the ballerina was the main part of ballet as depicted by Marie Taglioni in La Sylphide (Hurley 41). Other notable ballerinas performed during this period as that was the in thing in the society. During this period, most of the artwork including dancing was focused towards romantic experiences and the problems and joys found in the relationship between a man and a woman (Moorey 20). The artists of this period were very positive about numerous things as they would show how love endures and wins over all evil and bad. The Period of Romanticism was an exciting one allowing creators of art to come up with various stories centered on similar themes. Through this, it was immensely easy to join stories from different fairy tales to create one.
In this version of Sleeping Beauty, the choreographer was Marius Petipa. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was responsible for the composition of the work. Ivan Vsevolozhsky was responsible for designing the costumes, and he also acted as the librettist. Genre and style are two elements of any work of art that enable observers to categorize performances based on similarities (Adshead 23). Being a broader category, they are particularly useful in the identification of historical styles. For instance, ballet is categorized as a historical performance that is also divided into romantic, court, ballet d action or even classical. Sleeping Beauty is a good example of a romantic ballet that is also considered classical. When it comes to choreography, various styles accompany the genre, and this is also largely dependent on the style of the choreographer. Owing to its historical period, Petipa adopted both a romantic and classical ballet approach to Sleeping Beauty.
The ballet genre was particularly used in this performance because this was a period where this form of performance was revered. As explained by Adshead, the pinnacle of classical ballet occurred during the eighteen hundreds and particularly the eighteen nineties in Russia (31). During this period, the Russian government was trying to use ballet to reflect on the imperial appearance of St. Petersburg and its aristocratic nature. From their standpoint, doing so would outperform the French predecessors and render them smarter and better (Lee 222). This is why the designer decided to use opulent costume designs. In choosing the choreography, Petipa was clever enough to employ particular movements which were meant to convey emotion as was common in romantic ballets (Adshead 39). This was guided by strict formulae and structure containing rules on virtuosic techniques of movement (Lee 102). In the world of any fairy tale such as this one, it is possible to tell good from evil imply by studying the dressing as depicted in this performance (Homans 15). The evil Carabosse end each of her minions are always wearing darker colors with minimal green as these were the colors of jealousy and evil in the Period of Romanticism (Homan 38; Lee 49). On the other hand, the good people are always in dazzling white clothes and adorned in a lot of but attractive jewelry. Through this form of costume arrangement, it becomes easy to comprehend the actions of each character through the non-verbal ballet dancing.
The costume design was also reflective of the period which also matched the historical aspects of the time. For instance, the designs for the lead dancers would be inclusive of knee length tutu which was symbolic of elevation of status (Lee 129). This knee length tutu not only restricted the movement, but they also offered the dancers an opportunity to execute the immense leg extensions. The lead dancer would be particularly adorned in a shorter tutu which was also symbolic of respect. Aside from these, the costumes contained symmetrical and geometric formations that put an emphasis on harmony and balance. The pointed shoes for both males and females were created to allow the dancers to stay risen for longer periods while leaping and when stationary (Lee 129). This dancing on pointed toes was a classic of this form of ballet. An analysis of the Sleeping Beauty ballet reveals that it was longer than other ballet performances and this is a characteristic of classical ballet. This particular ballet performance took up to four hours (Tchaikovsky and Petipa). Owing to the fact that it was created during the period of romanticism, the subject matter together with the theme surrounded aspects of love and the relationship between women and men. Normally, the story would proceed with an obstacle coming between love birds and then its removal which would then allow the rekindling and eventual happy marriage of the two (Hurley 39). Every romantic story started on a good note and ended on the same after the lovers passed through a lot of turmoil.
The fact that the story contained similar themes and subject matters made it easy to incorporate characters from another story to illuminate two extremes as seen in The Sleeping Beauty Ballet. In addition to this, Perrault had incorporates other characters including Cinderella, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood and Tom Thumb among others. He also included a myriad of characters from other French fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast, The White Cat and Pretty Goldilocks (Moorey 38). The whole idea of incorporating all these other characters was to focus on the forces of good and evil. Good in this case is represented by the Lilac Fairy, and the evil or bad is represented by Carabosse. The other additional characters aid in illuminating and supporting these characters thus serving as a significant plot to the underlying plot (Moorey 42). Additionally, these characters help in contrasting how characters were created and their depiction of their behavior in a variety of circumstances such as when threatened. Through this, it becomes easy to understand the mind of the creator, and it also becomes easy to identify the characteristics of different periods.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the curiosity of most people has been on Russian art, culture and the business of curating dances. These practices were the jewel of Russia at one point, and a lot of effort was put into their creation, criticism, and conservation. In lieu to this, a lot of works of art developed during the reign and fall of the Soviet Union arouse curiosity, and this is why the Sleeping Beauty ballet forms a significant piece. From the design of the costumes, choreography and even the dancing style, Sleeping Beauty ballet conveys the uniqueness of the beliefs of the historic time it was created. Cherished as a masterpiece, this work of art led to the development of a following dedicated to creating outstanding pieces.
Art was cherished during this historical period, and most of the renowned individuals must have outdone their performances on the same. For one to become a performer, they would choose a particular area of interest, and they were also influenced by particular works of art. In other words, everyone had a mentor who influenced their personal perception and inspired their performances. The renowned choreographer called Balanchine, the balletomane Diaghilev and the dancer Palova all ended up in their respective careers due to the Sleeping Beauty ballet. These were among the people who were also influenced by intellectuals who also equaled philosophers because their work would contain hidden meanings. For instance, Diaghilev also obtained inspiration from intellectuals and philosophers such as Nietzche and Wagner through whom they would communicate hidden messages in their ballet performances. This principle is also referred to as Gesamtkunstwerk which refers to an intermingling of various senses and their combination to personal perception in a work of art. A good example in this case is the work done by George Balanchine who adopted a neo-classical approach to choreography as an improvement to the 1800 romantic and classical approaches (Adshead 49).
Evolution of Sleeping Beauty Ballet
Among the most dramatized and replayed classical ballet dances, the Sleeping Beauty Ballet forms one of the most significant ones. This particular performance holds a special position in the repertoire of the Royal Ballets owing to its historical impact and the fact that the Russians did it for the purpose of outdoing the French. From its premiere in the eighteen ninety, the Russian Nicholas Sergeyev staged it in the year nineteen thirty-nine. He fled with the notations from Mariinsky and a nineteen-year-old Fonteyn Margot whom he used as Aurora in the presentation. During this performance, Mr. Sergeyev maintained most of the aspects of the original because he had the notes and a lot of help from other people who had undying interest in the work.
In February nineteen forty-six, this presentation was used to commemorate victory at home and when on tour in America. Most New York audiences were impressed by Aurora and smitten by the presentation of such grace and pain within the same performance. The performance of the Sleeping Beauty Ballet has undergone significant changes over time, but there is still an aspect of the historical times that is still maintained in the performances. As explained by Homans, this is mostly impacted by technology and the need for aesthetic additions (49). For instance, an analysis of ballet productions in London today reveals the original virtuosity of ballerinas and their male counterparts. However, the performance has been captured by popular attention requiring the addition of social lighting effects and a slight change in the script for purposes of fitting into the contemporary beliefs.
Throughout the presentations of Sleeping Beauty Ballet, there is the maintenance of Gesamtkunstwerk which is achieved through the collaboration of personal perception and feelings. The contemporary performances lack the ability to bring about a total choreographic unity that is achieved through the combination of design, drama, and music into a united work evident in Ballets Russes. In addition to this, there is the aspect of the quality of music where the closest performance to the original was that done by George Weldon in the year nineteen eighty-eight during the conduction of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London. It is impossible to obtain the same instruments to be used for performance and maintaining a similar tempo is also difficult.
The Sleeping Beauty Ballet is an outstanding work of art that depicts the political, social and historical characteristics of the time it was created through its style, genre and choreography. Historically, this was a period of Romanticism in art where every story depicted an aspect of love, the turmoil men and women go through and the eventual successful occurrence of a happily ever after. In this ballet, the young woman and young man have to overcome pain brought about by evil before they live happily. During this historic time, the French were leading in ballet performances, and the Russians used this performance as a way to debut their skills in the same field. As successful as it was, the performance borrowed some concepts from the French ballet dances. The costumes chosen were meant for the comfort of the dancers and their differentiation in terms of the leader and other dancers. The movement while dancing was characterized by graceful movements as expected in any romantic story. Clearly, this ballet depicts the love for romance in Russia as well as the whole world during this historic time.
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Homans, Jennifer. Apollo Angels: A History of Ballet. New York: Random House, 2010. Print.
Hurley, Thérèse. “Opening the door to a fairy tale world: Tchaikovsky’s ballet music” in The Cambridge Companion to Ballet. 2007. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Lee, Carr. Ballet in Western culture: A history of its origins and evolution. MA, USA: Allyn and Bacon, 2002. Print.
Moorey, Teresa. The Fairy Bible. The Defiitive Guide to the World of Fairies, 2008.
Tchaikovsky and Petipa. The Sleeping Beauty, 1890 (ballet)