The Wedding of Aurora and the Prince

The opening Marche includes the characters listed in the libretto, plus some additional personnel. The curtain rises on Catalabutte, standing in the middle of a courtyard with vistas of Versailles in the distance. Six court ladies enter by twos. They are followed by four of the boy pages, who precede the King and Queen. The four divertissement fairies are next, followed by Aurora and Désiré in formal attire. The other two boy pages carry Aurora's train.

These are followed by the Entrées de ballet, four quadrilles (four couples each) representing Rome, Persia, India and Turkey. The cast list and libretto translated by Wiley indicate five quadrilles, including one representing America, as Entrées de ballet. They are listed after the Pas de quatre (i.e., grand pas de deux) at the end of the ballet, at which point they presumably danced the Sarabande. The Kirov, following a libretto printed in the Yearbook of the Imperial Theatres (Ezhegodnik Imperatorskikh Teatrov), 1890-1891, dispenses with the Sarabande, for which there is no notation, and brings the quadrilles on during the opening Marche. They dance only during the Finale (i.e., mazurka). Although the Sarabande is not included in this libretto, neither is it cut from the répétiteur, which includes an indication that the repeated section of the number should be played three times. Perhaps the inclusion of the dance in documents relating to the premiere and not in the subsequent theater yearbook indicates that it was cut from the ballet soon after the first performance.

The Polacca is fully staged and includes each fairy and fairy tale character listed in the libretto. Here we see cupids sitting on the edge of the cage of Fairy Canari and think of little Georgii Balanchivadze riding along, taking it all in and being convinced he would make a career out of ballet. The Marche and Polacca are not notated, but lists of participants are included, as well as some musical counts, which help to determine entrances.

Of particular importance is the attendance of Carabosse at the wedding. Unlike many 20th-century productions of Sleeping Beauty, here Carabosse is not vanquished by Désiré when he gains access to Aurora's bedchamber. The situation is merely played out as was determined at the child's christening one hundred years earlier, with no surprises and no battles. Everything goes according to plan and, when another state event rolls around, Carabosse is duly invited. The balance of good and evil has been restored.

The Pas de quatre of the jewel fairies maintains the format of the 1890 premiere. The intrada begins as a pas de trois for the Gold, Silver and Sapphire Fairies and later features the Diamond Fairy. As we know, the Gold Fairy music was transferred to Act II and the Sapphire Fairy music in 5/4 time was cut. The Silver Fairy variation thus became a pas de trois (danced at a very fast tempo by the Kirov), followed by the Diamond Fairy variation. The coda brings the fairies on in pairs, with unison dancing making up the last half of the number.

The delightful pas de caractère of Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat includes the standard ten-bar introduction Tchaikovsky composed before the premiere and also is much more musical and less self-indulgent in presentation that in past productions.

What was originally intended as a Pas de quatre for the Blue Bird and Princess Florine and Cinderella and Prince Fortuné became a pas de deux for the former couple at some point before the first performance in 1890. The Kirov's "reconstructed" Blue Bird pas de deux is an interesting, if not altogether successful, mix of the old Soviet version and steps from the choreographic notation. For example, at one point in the Soviet version the Blue Bird supports Princess Florine with his right hand and then steps in front of her and kneels, replacing his right hand with his left. The choreographic notation of this passage clearly indicates that he lets go of Florine with his right hand and performs a saut de basque while passing in front of her, finishing in fourth position. Florine then steps to piqué arabesque, using the Blue Bird's shoulder for support. The notated passage is not only more virtuosic than the Soviet version, it also involves more spacious and fluid partnering, an important difference between many modern versions of classical ballets and their notated counterparts in the Sergeev Collection. The timing of the final steps of the Blue Bird adagio have been modified by the Kirov to conform to the choreographic notation. Even so, once Florine is on the Blue Bird's shoulder, instead of following the notation by coming off his shoulder immediately and performing a quick chaîné turn into her final kneeling position, she stays on his shoulder long enough to flick her hands, à la mid-century Soviet style, and is awkwardly lowered to her knee for an anti-climactic finish.

The choreographic notation for this pas de deux is one of the most clearly noted dances of the entire ballet, so the conflated version performed by the Kirov raises questions as to why certain steps and combinations from the Soviet version were not superceded by those from the notation. Most important, were the decisions to change certain passages according to the notation and leave others as danced in the Soviet version purposeful or accidental? Did dancers make their own choices about what to change or leave unchanged? Was rehearsal time at a premium? Did the reconstructors misread the notation or simply not read it all? Clearly, the notation was understood at some level because elements from it are included in the dance at various points. However, great care must be taken with each step to ensure an accurate reading. For example, a notated saut de basque, at first glance, can look like a simple soutenu turn.

Princess Florine's variation likewise has been only partially restored. The opening step is still danced as a piqué arabesque fouetté, although the notation clearly indicates an enveloppé. At least the step is danced with each pique on the melodic downbeat, rather than changing to the second beat as in the old production. Other timing, however, is questionable. After the first step, the Kirov has restored a connecting combination from the notation consisting of two echappées, passé, pirouette en dehors. While this combination replaces the time-biding and wrist-flicking usually found at this point in the variation, it begins one beat late, throwing off the timing of the next combination of echappé, passé, and three hops on the left pointe, while the right leg moves through a low enveloppé to passé and arabesque. This movement of the right leg should mirror the three rising notes in the melody, but the Kirov reconstruction places it one beat late.

Vikharev's assistant, Alisha Sveshnikova, was quoted in a New York Times preview that "the biggest problem in deciphering the Sergeyev notations was figuring out how the choreographic text fits the music." This example is a case in point. Tchaikovsky's melodies often begin midway through a bar of music, but give the impression of beginning on the downbeat of the bar. Bars of choreographic notations sometimes follow the aural impression of the music, rather than the actual written counts. Here, by waiting until the beginning of the next bar of music to begin the connecting combination, the alignment of movement and music is skewed.

The final combination has not been restored. As notated, it includes three series of chaîné turns. The Kirov Florines perform different turns and also substitute a different final pose for the one given in the notation, which is en face, right foot tendu back, arms à la seconde with palms turned up à la Bournonville.

The Blue Bird variation, performed on opening night by Anton Korsakov, included a reconstructed second combination of sauté à la seconde, landing in attitude fondu. The second combination usually performed is a set of tour jetés, and Vasili Sherbakov, who danced the second performance, actually performed the tour jetés, rather than the reconstructed step.

More timing problems occur in the coda. After the Blue Bird's famous brisé volé diagonal, Florine performs her piqué rond de jambe turns at half speed. This error affected the timing such that the reconstructors have been forced to open the 16-bar cut in the music to fit in all of the steps. Further, the 16 bars are too much for the dancing is left, so some extra steps have been inserted as the couple makes their way to the corner for their final diagonal.

The pas de caractère of Red-Riding-Hood and the Wolf is not part of the choreographic notation and the Kirov does not include the mime or the prop trees of the Royal Ballet production.

The pas de caractère of Cinderella and Prince Fortuné has been restored from the choreographic notation. An agitated Cinderella enters first with a small set of bellows and the Prince runs in after her as the waltz begins. He tries twice to fit the glass slipper on her foot, but she blows his hair with the bellows. The third time's a charm and, on the waltz reprise, they begin to dance a mazurka and other character steps.

The pas berrichon of Hop-o'-My-Thumb, His Brothers and the Ogre was included in the Kirov's 1952 production, but its action confused the storyline and did not follow the choreographic notation. The new production happily restores the notated version and the story becomes clear. Tom Thumb and his brothers are sporting together when along comes the Ogre (a man eater). The monster falls asleep and Tom gets the idea to steal his boots. The brothers help out and Tom tries on the large boots for size. As the boys begin to march along, with Tom leading the way, the Ogre wakes up and chases the boys offstage. Originally a very short number, the action is facilitated by several musical repeats, which are indicated in the sources.

What we now know as the "Grand pas de deux" was first performed as a pas de quatre. Aurora and Désiré enter to the first five bars of the introduction. The subsequent entrée is cut in the holograph score and one of the piano reductions. The répétiteur indicates a number of brief cuts within the piece. A dance in 6/8 time for the Gold and Sapphire Fairies is included in the choreographic notation at this point. Perhaps this number was danced to the entrée music.

As a reconstruction, the pas de deux adagio is disappointing because the mime, written in prose in the choreographic notation, is not performed. The three brief mime exchanges are carefully placed at points of respite when Aurora and Désiré separate after partnered combinations. For example, after the opening supported fouetté arabesque, the dancers cross paths and walk away from each other. As they return, Aurora mimes, "I will dance with him," and Désiré mimes, "I love her and will marry her." These conversation bites render the dance a pas d'action, reviving the plot after the many divertissements and carrying the action forward to the end of the ballet.

Despite the mime detail, the choreographic notation of the pas de deux is very spare, limited to sketchy floor plans and the simplest notation of steps, including arabesques, double pirouettes and promenades. No connecting steps are given and only a few prose partnering directions are supplied. In general, the Kirov's pas de deux follows much of what is given in the notation.

Désiré's variation performed here is choreographed by Konstantin Sergeev, rather than the version in the choreographic notation. As Wiley notes, the notated variation is likely given as performed by Nikolai Legat (1869-1937). The notations call for a host of rapidly-performed virtuosic steps, including many assemblés, sissones battu, double tours and double sautés en tournant. Midway through, nine entrechat six are required, followed by a manège of what appears to be seven grand jetés en tournant. At the Presto, a diagonal of twelve sautés/sautés battu are notated, followed by what is likely a quadruple pirouette.

Aurora's variation is the standard one, as is the coda, which is another mix of notated steps and later revisions.

The Finale (i.e., mazurka) brings all the characters back on stage for final combinations, culminating in a brief ensemble dance that leads to the brilliant Apotheosis. The Kirov opens a 23-bar cut to make time for the scenic transition. As the entire court pays tribute to the royal couple, a blue drop decorated with a gold fleur-de-lis rises to cover the view of Versailles. The drop continues upward, lifting to reveal banks of cut-out clouds, within which are cherubs and deities, some playing musical instruments. The Lilac Fairy and Carabosse are among the gods, and at the pinnacle stands a painted Apollo and his chariot drawn by four horses.

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Copyright © Doug Fullington 1999. All rights reserved.