[Image: Two dancers from the Russian National Ballet, performing on stage in full costume.]
The Russian National Ballet’s performance of Sleeping Beauty at the Ferguson Center was quite a sight to behold. It was a dazzling display of athleticism, talent and tights. However, there could have been more tutus.
I will freely admit that I know virtually nothing about ballet. I never took any form of dance as a child, I’m not sure what an arabesque or even what a pointe is. The most I can say I know about it is what I gleaned from watching documentaries and one season of Dance Academy on Netflix. So this review is by no means a statement on the art of dance or the ability of the performers. It’s really just more of my ramblings, this time about a ballet.
One tip I can give all ballet-goers is that you should always read the program notes before the performance. No matter how capable the dancers or how well-designed the choreography, there’s only so much that you can understand from body motion alone. When there is literally no dialogue, it’s very difficult to progress a plot. Hence why The Nutcracker’s entire second act is everyone just dancing to celebrate Clara and the Prince’s arrival. That’s it. That’s all that happens.
The prologue of this ballet takes place shortly after Princess Aurora’s birth. Everyone comes to celebrate and bestow gifts on the tiny girl. The dancing starts out with people that are in 16th century-esque clothing. The men are not dressed in traditional ballet garb (tights) and the ladies are wearing floor-length skirts. Dude, every single person on that stage was a trained dancer. Where are the tutus and the flying leaps?
Even the king and queen were fully clothed in things that you couldn’t leap around in. It was a bit anti-climatic for the beginning of the ballet. But then the fairies arrived and shit got real. Those girls were in tutus and had on tiaras. They came ready to do some dancing. The Lilac Fairy was in a brilliant purple outfit, holding a sprig of the flower that she was named after. During this scene, the fairies danced and all but the Lilac Fairy graced the princess with gifts. But then!
Caraboose, an evil fairy and this story’s villain, shows up… in a floor-length dress, flanked by four minions. I was extremely disappointed. I wanted to see a dance off. I wanted a Sharks versus Jets showdown. I wanted someone to get served. Caraboose’s dance mainly consisted of her fluttering her cape. And okay, so her character was played as a very old woman and maybe it would be in keeping with her character that she couldn’t dance like the other fairies, but still. I didn’t come to see ballerinas flapping fabric around.
[Image: The fairies dancing around Caraboose, the evil queen.]
Anyway, Caraboose does what she does best and curses Aurora that she will prick her finger when she’s 16 and die. Everyone freaks the fuck out in ballet-style (more dancing). But, and this is all from the program notes, the Lilac Fairy tells the king and queen that she can’t break Caraboose’s spell, but she can ensure that Aurora won’t die but only sleep. Which I guess is good enough for everyone else as this scene ends on a high note.
Act II opens on Aurora’s 16th birthday. A troupe of peasant girls dance with young peasant lads. During this dance the epic song “Once Upon A Dream” plays from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. The 1959 classic took some of their music directly from the ballet. Although, to be honest, this was the only song that I truly recognized. A lot sounded vaguely familiar, but I’ll be damned if I remember seeing that film. Anyway, the scene changes to the court where it’s Aurora’s birthday party.
She comes out in a light pink tutu and dances like someone that has all of the beauty privilege in the world would. Four princes have come to see her hand in marriage now that she’s 16 and ready to be married off and start popping out babies. The program notes then go off into some weird tangent. They read, “Aurora begins the adagio in with one leg raised and bent behind her, one curved arm raised overhead. Some have read in this “attitude” pose, which Aurora repeats often, a kind of gentle questioning or youthful uncertainty.”
I’m guessing that’s the part where it would help if I knew something about ballet, because that just sounds like reading entirely too much into shit to me. Anyway, Aurora dances the adagio with her suitors and everything is going really well until she sees an old woman in the crowd holding something. The old woman, okay, we all know it’s Caraboose at this point, holds out the object, a spindle, and Aurora takes it. She then dances with it as people try to stop her. No one manages to before she pricks her finger on it. I guess tackling someone mid-dance wouldn’t be very ballet-like.
We know what happens now. Aurora swoons, after showing the entire court her boo-boo. Then the Lilac Fairy gets off her ass and, instead of just letting Aurora sleep, puts everyone in the entire court to sleep. Which seems like overkill. I mean, who is going to rule this kingdom if all of the royalty and government are asleep? We pondered this as it went into intermission. Well, no one else I was with did, but I did. Oh yes, I did.
Act III starts off with a bunch of nearby royals taking part in a hunt. The nobility come out in dance-inappropriate outfits. And just when you think this is going to be another boring scene where nothing happens, He arrives. He, of course, is Prince Charming. And he is delicious. Although I’m totally not okay with hasty marriages between teenagers, I would so marry him and his yummy legs in a heartbeat. Seriously, he was a beautiful, beautiful man.
Anyway, he goes off on his own for a while and then the Lilac Fairy gives him a vision of Aurora and points a massive finger over to her castle with a big sign planted outside reading, “Hot young marriageable tail, thisaway”. The vision version of Aurora (which, come on, is really just Aurora) dances with the prince along with the Lilac Fairy and her fairy compatriots that are dressed in a lighter purple than she is. That’s right, dressed in tutus!
[Image: Aurora and all of the fairies dancing at the end of the ballet.]
There’s then a short scene where they are resetting for court behind a curtain. It shows Caraboose and some of her minions being shooed away by the Lilac Fairy. Again, no dance off, no dance battle, no one gets served. Once the court is reset, Charming injects himself into the narrative by kissing Princess Aurora and waking her from the spell. No one demands to know why he’s going around kissing unconcious young women and everyone is just so happy to be alive that they embrace and start to celebrate. By the way, did I mention that it’s now 100 years later?
Imagine being woken up by some youngster young enough to be your grandson in your castle where none of your commoners have noticed that you were missing and no one really seemed to care? Yeah, this plot has some holes. But who cares about them when there’s dancing to be done! It’s time for the ball.
Now here’s the meat of this ballet. It’s down to everyone celebrating and dancing for Aurora and Charming’s wedding. They invite other fairytale characters, including Puss ‘n Boots, Bluebird [the program actually says it’s Bluebeard, which I thought was hilarious] and his wife, Goldilocks and a Bear and as well as Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Which, this court seems pretty fucking progressive, because if this was reality, people would be shocked today if Little Red Riding Hood showed up with a woman on her arm. Now she’s showing up with a dancing, anthropomorphic wolf and no one bats an eyelash.
Anyway, everyone dances, the Bluebirds dance and do something that the program tells me is really impressive, Aurora and Charming change into wedding garb (read: white clothes) and they dance, everyone dances! It’s a happy ending for everyone! Yay!
Overall, I greatly enjoyed the show and look forward to seeing more ballets in the future. I also feel that I should read up more about them, as I really don’t even grasps the basics of what I’m watching when I go to these shows. I just wish that A. Ballets weren’t so goddamn rare. The most I get to see is The Nutcracker on Christmas. B. They weren’t so goddamn expensive. I won’t tell you what was paid for the nosebleed seats we got. But it was way more than a regular play, musical, or any other kind of theatre performance that we have around here.
Regardless, this was a good performance, I enjoyed it and I hope to see more. Also, men in tights are deliriously yummy. I would go to ballets just to see them.