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Ballet Classics: The Sleeping Beauty Prologue Fairy Variations

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The latest in Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Ballet 101" series featured Doug Fullington and PNBS Professional Division dancers in "Ballet Classics:  The Sleeping Beauty Prologue Fairy Variations."  The presentation was on Saturday, January 12 19, in Studio C in the Phleps Center.  This studio is a little larger than the stage; the tape marks representing the scenery for PNB's upcoming production were down.

The choreography, though, was different than what we'll see in February, as the variations were set from the Stepanov notation.

We were given a wonderful 12-page handout with historical information, excerpts from the libretto/program, information about the music, including key, tempo, and length in bars for each of six fairy variations -- the original had six, including the Lilac Fairy -- and the coda, information from sources describing the action, text descriptions which noted the dancer whose names were in the notation, along with beautiful drawings and photos of each fairy with her page(s), and photos of the opening pages of a program from 1983 1893.

  • Candide:  Pavlova
  • Fleur de farine: No dancer name noted
  • Miettes qui tombent:  Trefilova
  • Canari qui chante: Vaganova
  • Violente: Sedova
  • Lilac Fairy: (Marie) Petipa

Fullington first spoke to the context:  where in Petipa's timeline the work was created, how, like The Pharoah's Daughter, it was popular from the start, that Director of the Imperial Theatre Ivan Vsevoloszhsky wrote the libretto and designed the costumes, and what the scenario described in the original program was, although with the general caveat that programs were published and could be purchased in advance, but by the time a ballet was presented, they weren't always entirely accurate.

He also noted that the pages for each fairy could be male or female dancers in heeled shoes, that the costumes were colorful and not matchy matchy (my description) as they are today, and that there wasn't one set designer at that time:  the person who was good at interiors, designed the interiors, while the person who could paint the outdoor background, designed those, and there could be one designer/act.  

Lastly he described the musical structure, how some cuts were made along the way, and how Tchaikovsky's music wasn't always completely comfortable for Petipa.  He also noted that rehearsal musicians were violinists, and that the piano added to the last act in place of the harp was quite modern for its time, just like the electricity that had been added to the theater.  

From there, each variation was performed by one of the students, and then Fullington described what was in the notation and what was not -- if I remember correctly, none of the ending poses were notated, for example, and some of the transitions weren't -- and what was not notated was a collaboration between him and the students, whom he noted had just come off of Nutcracker and were rehearsing Sleeping Beauty while some were also auditioning for next year, and he and we, the audience, were grateful for the time they put into this project..  He talked about the structure of the variations, the type of movement that was different at the time The Sleeping Beauty was choreographed -- the outward facing palms, bend in the elbows, lesser turnout, chaines on demi-pointe -- but especially the academic details: how many places the dancers passed through fifth position, whether on the floor or in the air, how a dancer would show precisely to each angle -- croise, efface, etc. -- within a given section.   The dancers would illustrate those sections and aspects of the variation.  Then the variation would be performed from end-to-end, with most of them shared by two or three dancers.

Anyone could ask a question at any time, and there was a lot of interaction throughout.

What struck me most was the Lilac Fairy's variation.  Fullington explained that Marie Petipa was a great character dancer, but not known for her pointe work, which, he noted, was already enabled through blocked shoes.  Her notated variation was understated and beautiful, with room for presence and gravitas.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to be there.  This has been a highlight of the season so far.

Edited by Helene
Fixed dates, thanks to people who proofread better than I do.
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Throughout Doug pointed out how there was a one-to-one relationship between the choreography and the music, and spoke briefly about how in one variation, that wasn't  the case, but how the choreography and music trued up by the end.  Also how the little ending to Violente* seemed abrupt and had a little tag ending.

It had to have been a sell-out, because there weren't many tickets left when I bought mine, and we were asked explicitly while in the waiting area not to leave any seats between us.  

I didn't do it justice.  I couldn't  stop thinking about it all weekend.


*ETA:  Watching the tape of what was to be the live stream of the rehearsal, this is the Lilac Fairy's variation, no Violente's.  I misread my notes.

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