The Sleeping Beauty is a masterpiece of composition and choreography originally staged at the Mariinsky Theater by the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg in 1890. The second of three ballets composed by Tschaikovsky, The Sleeping Beauty was the most critically acclaimed and successful of the three during his lifetime (the other two, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, both eventually became canonical in classical ballet), however it was not without its “flaws” as many critics pointed out. This ballet has one of the longest run times, clocking in at just under 4 hours – including intermissions. It was commissioned in 1888 by Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the director of the Imperial Theaters. The First Ballet Master at the Imperial Ballet at this time was Marius Petipa, widely considered one of the most prolific and influential choreographers of all time. He originated dozens of ballets, many of which have endured as cornerstones of classical ballet. It was also during the late 19th century that millions of rubles were bestowed upon the Imperial Ballet, Opera, and Imperial Theatrical School by the treasury and the stagings of new and revival ballets were opulent and colossal. This period in Russian culture and arts enjoyed an educated, fervent audience and because of these many factors is often considered to be the golden age of Russian ballet.
Above is a photograph from the original production in 1890, with the prince and princess costumed for Act III. The ballet is an adaptation of the Brother’s Grimm version of Charles Perrault’s La Belle au bois dormant. In this version, the King and Queen and rest of the court fall into a 100 year slumber along with the princess after she pricks her finger on a spindle given to her by the evil fairy. When the prince finds her and kisses her, she and the rest of the court awake. The ballet ends with a magnificent ball celebrating the marriage of the prince and princess. This story is told over a prologue and three acts, breaking from the common two act structure of many ballets. Beloved by Russian audiences, it was performed over 200 times in just 10 years at the Mariinsky Theater. However, it wasn’t until the 1921 staging in London that the ballet garnered critical acclaim throughout Europe. To continue learning about this magnificent work of art, explore the other sections of this website.