The Christening of Princess Aurora

During the Introduction, the house curtain rises on a painted front drop of red drapes, which serves as the curtain throughout the performance. The drapes are drawn back to reveal a vase overflowing with lilacs on a balustrade.

The opening Marche is a mimed scene, as envisioned by Petipa and Tchaikovsky. A number of noblemen and women gather with Catalabutte, the master of ceremonies, in a hall in the castle of King Florestan XIV. A footman enters and presents Catalabutte with a list of invited guests for his approval. Seven more couples arrive and Catalabutte gives them instructions for greeting the King and Queen and informs them that the baby is asleep. All pass by the cradle and comment on the beauty of the child. Trumpets sound announcing the King and Queen, who are preceded by six boy pages. All bow to their sovereign.

As the Scène Dansante begins, five fairies enter in procession with their entourages. Each fairy is preceded by a genie with a fan and followed by two pages (some adults, some children) and a genie carrying a large censor. These numbers do not quite match up with the cast list from the first performance. In addition, the répétiteur calls for staggered fairy entrances, rather than one continuous procession. Finally, the Lilac Fairy enters with eight girls and two young pages.

An additional six girls bring gifts on pillows. Whether these gifts are brought by the fairies for Aurora or her parents or vice versa is unclear in the sources. The Kirov production indicates both possibilities. At this point in the Prologue, the gifts appear to be given to Aurora, via the King and Queen, by the fairies. After the Pas de six, the gifts seem to be given to the fairies in thanks from the royal family.

The subsequent waltz serves to introduce the new guests and offers us the first dancing in the ballet. The Kirov production follows the choreographic notation in most respects. The opening movements, in which Lilac's retinue comes forward with the six gift girls, match the notated steps, but differ from the written floor plan. The notation also does not account for the steps of four adult male pages, with the exception of turns (likely chaîné) on demi-pointe, as they travel toward the wings at the end of their portion of the waltz.

The Pas de six adagio is notated in a fair amount of detail, with elaborate floor plans, written descriptions and a few steps. Supplementary notations of groupings, drawn on smaller, unlined sheets of papers, have been inserted into the choreographic notation at this point. These groupings are somewhat different from those found in the main body of the notation in that they require fewer dancers, but involve six adult male pages, rather than four, and include one grouping with the Lilac Fairy raised above the rest to bless the cradle, which has been brought to center stage by Aurora's wet-nurses. This grouping corresponds to one of Petipa's own drawings. These supplemental groupings resemble those we are used to from the Royal Ballet production, and the Kirov has chosen to stage its adagio from these as well, while using only four pages in the preceding waltz and the following Allegro vivo. Because the 1890 cast list includes five male pages (two for Violente, two for Breadcrumb and one - who perhaps did not dance - for Canari), rather than six, the notations for six pages likely postdate those for four.

The adagio is technically restrained. The fairies perform only one supported pirouette into arabesque, rather than the two performed in the Royal Ballet production. The slow pace of one pirouette complements the languor of the adagio music and leaves room for greater feats of virtuosity in the variations and coda. The Lilac Fairy is made prominent in the adagio. For example, when the fairies are lined up along the front of the stage, she steps away from the line first, turns her back to the audience and appears to address the group as a whole. Such touches are not part of the choreographic notation. The Allegro vivo which concludes the dance is performed according to the notation by the Lilac retinue and four pages.

Each fairy's variation commences with a mimed blessing of the cradle before the music begins. The notated variations for Candide, Breadcrumb, Canari and Violente do not include arm or body movements, and most do not give a final pose. Canari's notation, however, is headed by the rubric, "At all times moving the wrists," and a final arabesque is clearly notated.

The final combination of the Candide variation resembles the 1952 production and is not the combination given in the notation, in which the dancer moves from plié/left foot tendu back to relevé on the right pointe, bringing the left leg through passé to développé front, repeated seven times on alternating feet before a final relevé to first arabesque on the right pointe. The Kirov girls perform relevé à la seconde from second position on alternating feet. Not only is this step not given in the notation, but as the dancers repeat the combination on alternate legs they do not pass through either fifth position or plié-coupé, which are standard connecting steps found throughout the Sergeev Collection notations.

The Lilac Fairy variation is notated twice and both versions include pointe work. The first version is still very accurately danced by the Royal Ballet. The Kirov's 1952 production also includes this variation, but in a very watered-down form. The authorship of this choreography has been claimed by Lopukhov and dated 1914. Because the choreographic notation has been dated around 1903 and because the scribe for this variation appears to be the same as for the other fairy variations (including the second Lilac variation, headed "M[arie] Petipa," the creator of the role), Lopukhov's assertion of authorship is questionable.

The Kirov's Lilac Fairy variation follows neither notation, although claims have been made that their Lilac Fairy dances Marie Petipa's version. While the floor plan of the Kirov's variation follows that of Marie's, the steps differ from the notation. For example, the Kirov's Lilac begins with a diagonal of large jetés, traveling from upstage left to downstage right. The notation, however, offers the following first combination: after a starting pose with left foot tendu front, the ballerina steps forward on the left foot and piqués on the right foot in a low arabesque. Stepping through to plié on the left foot, she performs a pas de chat, leading with the right foot, to finish en face in fifth position, left foot front. She now steps to her right side, piqués on the right foot and brings her left foot to coupé front, while making a half turn to the left to face the upstage left corner. She pliés on her right foot, as her left leg moves to a low à la seconde, presumably while finishing the turn. (The lack of a left turn sign in the notation - indicated by a minus sign in parenthesis above the feet and legs stave - makes this turn slightly ambiguous.) She steps to plié-coupé on the left foot and is ready to begin again. The entire combination is performed three times. No jeté is indicated. The Kirov's final combination of penchée arabesques also is not given in the notation.

The coda is a brilliant recap of the entire Pas de six and the Kirov's version matches what is preserved in the choreographic notation. The four pages lead off, though their steps are once again not notated. Only their ground plan is given: they begin upstage, travel downstage, back upstage and then toward the wings, two to each side. The Lilac retinue is next, followed by the fairies, whose entrances are staggered in the same order that the répétiteur lists their initial entrances in the Scène Dansante. This symmetry suggests that their Scène Dansante entrances should also be staggered. The entire retinue returns for a final grouping.

The Finale, with Carabosse and her retinue of six mice and four pages, is visually effective. Some of the mime differs from that in the Royal Ballet production, and other mime included in the choreographic notation is not performed at all. For example, the Kirov's Lilac Fairy accosts Carabosse while maintaining a lunge position midway between the evil fairy and the cradle, rather than assuming the first position pose made traditional by the Royal Ballet production. At another point, when the Queen begs Carabosse for mercy, the mimed exchanges that follow this action are omitted. As Carabosse exits, the court threatens her not with shaken fists but with wagged fingers, which becomes a signature gesture for the King throughout the ballet.

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Copyright © Doug Fullington 1999. All rights reserved.