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Tue, Oct. 10, 2023, 7.00 pm - 10.15 pm | Guest performance in Baden-Baden, Festspielhaus

Ballet by John Neumeier

The Sleeping Beauty

by John Neumeier

Why did I return to a fairytale ballet such as "The Sleeping Beauty" after such a long time?
Firstly, I am still fascinated by the German title "Dornröschen", i. e. thorn-rose, but also by similar titles in Danish, Dutch and many other languages. All of them suggest the close relationship between roses and thorns. Just as in the famous Handel aria "Lascia la spina" (Avoid the thorn), they associate pleasure with danger, beauty with pain. To show this inherent opposition in my new version, I have re-named the Evil Fairy (Carabosse) simply The Thorn and the Good Fairy (Lilac Fairy) The Rose, as in "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

"The Sleeping Beauty" holds a special place within the ballet repertoire. It is the final masterpiece of classical academic dance in St. Petersburg featuring choreography by Marius Petipa and music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. For a company like the Hamburg Ballet, it is vital to have this great work in its repertoire! After carefully considering whether I should start from scratch once again and simply throw away the old production, I decided, for ecological as well as economic reasons, on another course of action.

At the opening of our new Workshop Building in 2018, I was struck by the beauty and condition of a wedding costume from the 1978 production of "The Sleeping Beauty". I thought at the time: "Why should we not use these wonderful costumes which are so elaborately constructed from expensive fabrics?" Also, it would have been a shame to throw away Jürgen Rose's backdrops which were painted with such great artistic craftmanship – just to present something new.

When thinking of producing a new version of "The Sleeping Beauty", I still consider it best to present a carefully researched version of the traditional choreography with modern dramaturgy. The concept I developed in 1978, still seems valid. At that time, almost 100 years had passed since the premiere of Petipa's original ballet. I therefore had a prince of today encounter a princess who, following her 100 years slumber, still expressed herself in Petipa's choreographic language. Today I am 40 years older, but it still seems right to elaborate on this concept with the experience, proficiency and perhaps also courage I have since gained. Even though the original premiere happened 131 ago, the chronological contrast still allows a valid approach to this classic.

It is impossible to stage an "original version" of a ballet from the classical era. Even those versions based on Nikolai Sergejev's 1939 production for the Vic-Wells Ballet in London reconstructed from the Stepanov notation as well as those by Sergei Vikharev and Alexei Ratmansky (based on the same notation), are all different. Ballet repertoire is not normally taught from a score. The steps and movements are usually shown by a ballet master and passed on from dancer to dancer. This means, of course, there is a great margin for error or changes according to the technical ability of the performer. Therefore, it seems more logical to speak of a tradition; the tradition of the Royal Ballet in London, that of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg or the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Today, the reconstruction of "The Sleeping Beauty" should be the result of extensive research and the chosen version should be determined by individual taste and instinct. The crucial question is: How can one translate Petipa's style for an audience of today?

In his notes, Petipa describes Aurora as "coquette" and during the rose adagio, she at one point simply throws away the roses her suitors have presented to her. So, I presume that she was not a particularly well-behaved child but rather a girl spoiled by the parents who longed so much for her and for whom there was never a need to search for a deeper meaning in life. To my mind, the 100 years slumber is a symbol of her development into a young woman. When she awakes, she experiences fear, loneliness and apparent death for the first time in her life. Experience makes her receptive to love.

Already in 1978, the young prince in my ballet wore jeans. But, far too easily, one could forget that he was of our present time. In my new version, I have developed his character also choreographically. At first, out of boredom, the prince goes hunting with his aristocratic friends; the experience in the woods however, makes his rifle irrelevant and his macho behaviour yields to a sensitivity, an inner longing and vulnerability which prepares him for love.

Spanning several decades, my work on "The Sleeping Beauty" and its visionary Tchaikovsky score unveiled a story of two young human beings from diverse realities, who open themselves to the experience of "true love". My desire is to create a subtext of reality beneath the fairytale structure. Adding this new dimension, the traditional choreography should gain additional relevance, the dancers on the stage, but also the audience in the theatre becoming aware of the human motivation behind the movements.

Transcribed and translated by Jörn Rieckhoff

Music: Peter I. Tchaikovsky
Traditional Choreography after Marius Petipa
New Choreography, Staging and Lighting: John Neumeier
Set and Costumes: Jürgen Rose
Staging of the traditional Choreography: Peter Appel, Irina Jacobson, Kevin Haigen

3 hours 15 minutes | 1 intermission
Part I: 1 hour 25 minutes, Part II: 1 hour 15 minutes

Hamburg Ballet, Hamburg, July 16, 1978

Princess Aurora: Lynne Charles
Prince Désiré: François Klaus
The Thorn: Max Midinet
The Rose: Colleen Scott
Catalabutte: Kevin Haigen
Princess Florine: Marianne Kruuse
King Florestan XXIV: Victor Hughes
The Queen: Beatrice Cordua

2005 Yokohama, Fukuoka, Osaka, Tokyo 2023 Baden-Baden

Hamburg Ballet, Hamburg, December 19, 2021

Supported by the Foundation for the Support of the Hamburg State Opera

>> Festspielhaus Baden-Baden

The program is available in our online shop

[Read more]
By John Neumeier


PROLOGUE: In the Forest
A mysterious young woman moves through the forest.

Aristocratic young men, would-be hunters, drink and wander aimlessly. One of them, Prince Désiré, separated from his friends, has lost his way and is surprised by a summer storm. Drawn by the scent of a rose, Désiré moves deeper into the woods. Thorns obstruct his journey. In a distant castle, the image of a sleeping girl appears. He follows his instinct.

SCENE 1: Winter
Suddenly, Prince Désiré finds himself in a palace room with a beautiful, sad woman and an obviously caring man. Both are dressed in late 19th century fashion. He attempts to introduce himself but there is no response. The woman approaches a cradle – then violently pushes it to the floor. Désiré is alarmed – but discovers that the cradle is empty. The woman's reflection in a mirror holding a child surprises her and she understands that she at last is to become a mother.

SCENE 2: The Christening
Winter becomes spring. Servants prepare the room for the imminent christening. Catalabutte, the court dancing master, has prepared an allegorical ballet to celebrate the birth of Princess Aurora. The guests – the court – arrive. The last to enter the hall is the beautiful woman with her husband, in whom the Prince now recognizes a King and his Queen. Catalabutte gives the sign for the performance of his ballet "The Triumph of Dawn" to begin. Court ladies dance representing stars, each embodying a particular virtue symbolically bestowed on the baby. The last represents Aurora, the "rose of dawn ascendant". The celebrations completed, the royal couple entrusts Aurora to the care of her nurse.

Alone, Désiré is horrified to see terrifying thorn creatures entering the room through the mirror. They approach the cradle with threatening gestures and cast a spell on the child. The Princess will grow up – but, on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on the thorn of a rose and die. Désiré's efforts to protect the baby are in vain.

Unnoticed by him, the Rose enters through the mirror and reverses the prophecy. Aurora will not die, but will sleep for a hundred years, awaiting the kiss of a prince who will awaken her to life again. Désiré is now obsessed by the idea of saving Aurora himself.

The Queen returns to embrace her child.

Désiré continues his journey.

SCENE 3: Growing up
Moving deeper into his mysterious experience, the Prince observes scenes of Aurora's childhood and youth. He sees the mischievous six-year-old Princess evade Catalabutte's effort to teach her ballet. She is, however, perfect in her dance lesson. Désiré observes Aurora at eleven preferring dressing up in her mother's clothes to taking ballet class. However, as always, she excels. Finally, it is the day of her sixteenth birthday. Foreign princes arrive to ask for her hand in marriage.

In vain, Désiré attempts to communicate with Aurora.

SCENE 4: The Festival of Roses: Aurora's 16th Birthday
With a dance, gardeners and their children celebrate the royal birthday. The prince suiters use this opportunity to approach Aurora but, to Désiré's delight, she is not interested in any of them. For fleeting moments, he seems to make contact with her. Only once does the Egyptian prince manage to capture her attention with a mysterious, exotic rose. As Aurora takes it in her hand, the prick of its thorns make her sink to the ground in a faint. Désiré recognizes the Egyptian Prince as the strange thorn creature, who had cursed the child at her christening.

In shock, the court gathers around the unconscious Princess. The King carries his daughter into the palace and the Rose puts the entire court into a deep sleep.

Summer becomes autumn. Again, guided by the scent of a rose, Désiré continues his journey.


SCENE 5: Hunting Friends and The Vision
The sound of shooting startles Prince Désiré. Boisterously, his drunken friends approach, happy to find him well again. Proceeding on their frolicsome hunt, they expect Désiré to join them. He returns however, to contemplate recent events. Again, the scent of a rose guides his journey, as he sees shadowy figures resembling Aurora, and then, she herself seems to be calling him. He approaches her, but, the vision slips away.

For the Prince, Aurora seems at times a woman of today.

SCENE 6: The Wall of Thorns
His journey has made him vulnerable, his heart full of longing and love. Désiré is determined to rescue Aurora and battles his way through the wall of thorns searching for the enchanted castle.

SCENE 7: Aurora's Awakening
Reaching the palace, Désiré climbs to the balcony where Aurora sleeps. Overwhelmed by her beauty, he spontaneously kisses her. As she begins to stir, he hides. In shock, Aurora discovers that she is alone, surrounded by destruction, devastation and death. Impulsively, Désiré cannot resist taking her in his arms to comfort her. Having experienced fear and incredible loss, Aurora now feels love for this kind stranger.

SCENE 8: The Court Awakens – Wedding Preparations
The rest of the court awakens. Aurora is ready for Désiré's love, and Désiré wishes never to be separated from his dream. As in a fairy tale, the King and Queen agree to the sudden marriage.

Preparations are made and Catalabutte imagines the first steps of a bridal dance for Aurora and Désiré. Wedding guests assemble.

SCENE 9: The Wedding
After an opening Polonaise, the Pas de Trois "The Blessings of Cupid" begins the festivities. Next, Catalabutte himself dances as "The Bluebird" with Princess Florine. Désiré and Aurora's bridal dance crowns the celebration. During their dance, for the first time, Aurora bows deeply – kneeling before her beloved. Overwhelmed by an incredible joy during the closing Mazurka, the Prince collapses.

EPILOGUE: In the Forest
Awakening as if from a dream, Désiré discovers himself again in the woods. In front of him, on a park bench, he recognizes the lovely girl – who appears to be sleeping …

Venue: Guest performance in Baden-Baden, Festspielhaus

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