In the wonderful interview with Alastair Macaulay that Jane Simpson posted in Writings on Ballet
(thanks, Jane), Macaulay describes a favorite moment in Sleeping Beauty:
One of the ballet's greatest moments, at least as I used to watch it years ago, comes from Aurora alone, in her Act Three solo variation. In the phrase I’m thinking of, she simply advances across the stage in a diagonal doing the same step (petit développé) sixteen times, while her upper body - wrists, eyes, head, arms, torso - move in a steady crescendo. (This is the bit I was demonstrating to you when we left the theater after a “Beauty” performance! I especially like it if she seems at first to be looking towards her advancing foot through the ring described by her circling hands.) Now why can that sequence be so overwhelming? Well, we're watching something grow from small to large. We're watching poetic coordination. We're watching something simple that gradually involves the entire body. And we're watching a marriage of music and dance that is remarkably subtle: If the ballerina simply matches the music and phrases her upper-body movements in two series of eight - as usually happens today - she, curiously, makes a far more trivial effect than if she goes for one accumulating series of sixteen, which is what always used to happen and which catches a larger structural point within the music. Another point is that we should feel her whole body is involved: Alfred Rodrigues, who used to play the King with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, said he saw better than the audience ever could how Margot Fonteyn’s whole back would breathe while she was doing that phrase. And the whole series shows us something about this heroine at a point of resolution in the drama. By taking something small and showing how it builds, Aurora's reminding us of all the diagonals and all the crescendi we've seen in the ballet so far. She's also showing us, now that she has been awakened from sleep to love, how she has grown within her own spirit. And, as she does this in public, she's actually telling us more than her own story. She becomes the embodiment of the whole court, the whole legend. They all slept and awoke with her; their fate rested on hers.
I took out four DVDs and looked for this passage. In the Royal Ballet's 2006 revival of Sleeping Beauty, Alina Cojocaru does all 16 petit développés without pausing. She's lovely of course, but I don't find her particularly moving just here, or see much back "breathing." Neither Alla Sizova in the 1965 Kirov release nor Larissa Lezhnina in the 1989 Kirov recording do more than a few of the steps in the diagonal. I don't own the black and white recording of the full SB (more or less) with Margot Fonteyn, but in An Evening with the Royal Ballet
she does all 16, holding her arms lower than Cojocaru at first, not ringing them but creating something of that effect as she looks at her foot. As she raises her arms, she does bend her back. If I'm not mistaken she is considered to be far from her best in this recording, but while I don't find this passage ravishing (that may be my limitation), it is beautiful -- more beautiful to me than the other versions.
I'd love to hear what BA'ers think of Macaulay's perceptions. And what do you think of this passage in these and other recordings? What memories do you have of this moment by other dancers or in other productions? What impression did they make?