Staging the Joy of Life

Sleeping Beauty:Staging the Joy of Life

This backgrounder article is sponsored by The National Theatre Ballet as a service for Opus Osm readers.

Javiér Torrés

Guest choreographer Javiér Torrés currently in rehearsal for The National Theatre Ballet's Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty is one of the most-often staged ballets (besides Swan Lake and The Nutcracker), appearing frequently in the repertoire of (not only) major ballet companies worldwide. Moreover, Sleeping Beauty has a unique position in the work of the legendary ballet-creator team Tchaikovsky-Petipa.

Yuri Slonimsky, a well-known Russian journalist, critic, and librettist recalls that when preparing his ballets, Marius Petipa was able to visualise the dance sequences even before a note of music had been composed. Petipa planned the ballet in the most minute detail, suggesting not only the rhythm, orchestration, dramatic character, and exact length of each number, but even breaking them up into bars.

Petipa’s concept reflects his fundamental understanding of the musical structure and the need to renew and enrich tirelessly one’s musical memory to recognize what can be used in a new ballet. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky appreciated this approach to work, and it was his express wish that the front page of the piano score of Sleeping Beauty contain the words: “Composed by Tchaikovsky and Petipa”. (See Slonimsky, Yuri: Master of the Russian Ballet, Leningrad, 1937)

Sleeping Beauty balletThis version of the famous ballet, which we are presenting at this time, is not simply following the traditional model (or rather, the idea of the original version). It is instead a new interpretation, combining contemporary production capabilities with the original form of the ballet and the magic of the fairy tale.

Javiér Torrés, the author of this production, says in his dramaturgy’s concept, “In my vision of the fairy tale ‘The Sleeping Beauty,’ the actual drama takes place within the heart of the main character, Princess Aurora. Hence, all characters we see on stage appear as incarnations of Aurora’s inner emotions – particularly Lilac, the fairy of love, and Carabosse, the witch of fear. Aurora is confronted with the choice of living her life in fear or living it in love. It takes her a hundred years of sleep in fear before she can consciously choose to awake to love.

“I believe that Aurora’s choice between living in fear and living in love is a choice we all have. To understand how to make it a conscious one we must follow Aurora’s example and face our deepest fears. Making such a choice consciously is the only way we can awake into real love.”


Sketch for Carrabosse's costume in the National Theatre production

Therefore, the Lilac Fairy is the personification of love, if we understand love as something so powerful that it can heal and fill us with joy. In contrast, Carabosse represents fear, portrayed by the male and female principles (interpretation). In the ballet, there are also completely new interpretations of characters, and different choreographic arrangements. At the same time, there are also well-known choreographic compositions, variations, and combinations.

The dramaturgy of the National Theatre Ballet believes that staging innovation is inevitable as well as differences in understanding and approach to the work. We understand this “risk” as an open approach that does make sense, provided that the “new approaches” respect the more “established” ones. We believe that such an interpretation follows the evolution of art while showing an unwavering respect for traditions.

Javiér Torrés staged this ballet in deference to one of the original aims of the ballet, which should resonate with both young and mature audiences. He wants to convey the joy of life and show the entire range of human emotions.

– Václav Janeček

Photo Credits: The National Theatre Ballet: Top, Hana Smejkalová; center, Pavel Hejný; bottom, Erika Turunen

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