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Fairies and Fairy tales in Sleeping Beauty

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As perhaps all people on this website know Tchakovski’s 1889 ballet “The Sleeping Beauty” was taken from Charles Perrsult’s 1693 fairy-tale “La belle au bois dormant” (“The Sleeping beauty In The Woods.”)  In addition, according to the Tchaikovsky research website - see here: https://en.tchaikovsky-research.net/pages/The_Sleeping_Beauty, there are characters from six other fairy-tales entertaining the wedding guests during the third act.  These tales are

“Le Maistre Chat, ou le Chat Botté” (“The Master Cat or Puss-in-Boots”), “La chat blanc” (“The White Cat”), “Cendrillon, ou la petite pantoufle de verre,” (“Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper”), “L’oiseau bleu,” (“The Blue Bird”), “Le petit chaperon rouge,” (“Little Red Riding Hood”) and “Le petit Pouçet” (Little Thumb).  Note that Puss-in Boots and the White Car are from two different tales.  The two that particularly interest me are “The White Cat” and “The Blue Bird.”  They were both written by Madame d’Aulnoy   (Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, baronne d’Aulnoy).  She was born in the Normandy region of France in 1652.  I’ve read both stories, “The White Cat” more recently and “The Blue Bird” years ago.  The part of the story of “The Blue Bird” which inspired the pas from the ballet is in the first half of the fairy-tale.  During the second half of the tale Princess Florine goes on an extended and difficult journey to find and save her prince.  While it appears at the beginning of the  “White Cat” that the story will be about a prince, a female character quickly becomes the protagonist.  So, in both stories female characters are given important roles and in “The White Cat” the most important role.  The other four tales were written by Perrsult.

Two dances that are often removed from performances are Cinderella and her Prince and Tom Thumb, his Brothers and the Ogre.  Here are videos featuring these dances.   “Cinderella and Prince Fortura” (2 ½ minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACZvARLazfs and Tom Thumb, his Brothers and the Ogre (2 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w_anN-sMi4.  In the story the Tom Thumb character steals the Ogre’s Seven-League Boots. 


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Every Soviet-era and post-Soviet production I've seen includes the dance for Cinderella and her Prince. Ratmansky's production also has it, but with completely different choreography. He also retained the Ogre and boys, a weird number with inferior music (which I think explains its usual exclusion).

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Diane, thank you for your kind comment that this information is “Intriguing!” and with an exclamation mark even.  Also thank you Cuban and Volcano for your helpful information.  I agree that the Ogre and boys is a weird number.   

According to the original score for the ballet, there are 558 bars of music between the start of Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat to the end of Tom Thumb.  Of that a total of 228 (41%) is for Cinderella and her Prince, 75 bars (13%) for Tom Thumb, 68 bars (12%) for Little Red Riding Hood, 44 bars (8%) for Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat and 25 bars (5%) for the Blue Bird and Princess Florine.  In addition there is a total of 118 bars (21%) for Adagio and Coda under Pas de quatre.  I’m guessing that all four - Cinderella, her Prince, The BlueBird and Princess Florine dance together during those two sections.  This means that Cinderella and her Prince were originally given the most dance time and the BlueBird and Princess Florine - which it seems to me now get the most - had relatively little dance time, particularly by themselves.

In Bronislava Nijinska’s Early Memoirs there is a short chapter entitled “Nijinsky Dances the Blue Bird” (chapter 24, pages 207 to 210).  It was pointed out that prior to Nijinsky dancing the role “Only the large rigid wings mounted on a wire frame served to identify the character as a bird.”  These “. . . large wings extended upwards from the shoulder in a curved shape and covered the arms and hands.”  The dancer also wore an “elaborate full-skirted coat.”  It was further noted that “In the original costume a dancer could only perform the pas with his legs; his body was encumbered by the large rigid wings.”  However, Nijinsky changed this.  “The birdlike wings were part of his dancing body; his arms did not bend at the elbow, but the movement as in the wing of a bird was generated in the shoulder; the movements of the dancing body were the movements of a bird in fight.”  According to this chapter “Nijinsky had created a whole new theatrical image of the Blue Bird.”  This performance was in 1907. 

Nijinsky’s re-interpretation of this dance may have been the spark that shifted the emphasis from Cinderella to the Blue Bird.  So, it may be the case that it wasn’t only that the Cinderella music was removed, but also some of Cinderella's music may have gone to the Blue Bird.  I feel a similarity between the dance of the Blue Bird and that of the Spirit of the Rose, which Nijinsky originated. 


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It seems to me that various productions of The Sleeping Beauty assign various names and gifts to the fairies in the prolog.  In Tchaikovski’s original score at the Tchaikovsky research website the names of the good fairies are given as: Candide, Coulante: The Fairy of Blooming Wheat, Breadcrumb, The Singing Canary, Violante and The Lilac Fairy.  Most of these names give me only a vague if any idea of what the gift would be, but here is a website that gives an explanation for all of the names: https://expressionplatform.com/the-fairies-of-sleeping-beauty/.

Candide (Candour) = Purity, honesty, sincerity and integrity

Coulante: The Fairy of Blooming Wheat (Fleur de farine) = Beauty

Breadcrumb (Miettes qui tombent) = Generosity

Singing Canary = Lovely, melodious voice

Violente (finger fairy) = Force, passion and temperament

Lilac Fairy = Wisdom

What is interesting is that Aurora never got the gift of wisdom.  The website gives interesting, expanded explanations as to the connections between the names and the gifts and how they fit into Russian traditions.  It also gives the names of the fairies from other productions of the ballet.  In Perrsult’s story, the fairies are not given names and six of the young fairies give gifts of, beauty, wit, grace, dancing perfectly well, singing like a nightingale and to be able to play all kinds of music to the utmost perfection, while the seventh young fairy hid behind some hangings as she correctly suspects the old fairy is going do some harm. 


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