Prince Désiré, the courtly hero of The Sleeping Beauty, is something of a thankless role for the male dancer. He's a late arrival, appearing in the second act, long after the drama of Carabosse's curse and the show-stopping Rose Adage. After a brief hunt scene, he falls in love with the vision of Aurora, follows the Lilac Fairy's prompts to where she sleeps, awakens her with a kiss, and plights his troth. The remainder of his role is to support the ballerina in the final Grand Pas de deux - vital in the architecture of the dance, but offering not much opportunity for psychological development. Compared to, say, Albrecht in Giselle or Siegfried in Swan Lake, he's a charming cypher.
However, in the hands of the right dancer, there are nuances to be found.
01 Aug 2017
In David McAllister's version of The Sleeping Beauty, the courtier's dances in the hunting scene are streamlined, focusing attention on the Prince. Like Siegfried, Désiré is a dreamer, yearning for something he can't name, and his reveries set him aside from the revels of his court. After his friends resume their hunt, he lingers behind, and when the Lilac Fairy appears he is delighted by this visitation from another world. Surrounded by the flutter of wood nymphs, transported to another realm, he is ripe for the Lilac Fairy's suggestive revelation of the vision Aurora, and instantly falls in love with her.
The original scenario of the ballet mentions that the Lilac Fairy is godmother both to Désiré and Aurora, a detail that lives in McAllister's version. "That makes sense to me," he says. "It follows that she would want to make a match between them." Perhaps it also follows that Désiré, having a fairy godmother, would have an interest in the otherworldly. In the McAllister Beauty the Prince is fascinated by a book of fairytales, finding it more compelling than the hunt. In Act III, his friends arrive at his wedding dressed as his favourite characters from the book - the Bluebirds, Red Riding Hood, Cinderella. By making these wedding guests the Prince's own comrades, McAllister creates a sense of a real person, placed in a social context.
Kevin Jackson, on whom McAllister created the role of Désiré, is a thoughtful dancer, and spent a lot of time imagining himself into the character, creating a backstory for his melancholy and his attraction to Aurora and her court. "Giving him a backstory helps me connect with him. I like that in David’s version of the ballet he has his nose in a fairytale book, that’s his interest, like some people are interested in astronomy – he believes in another world. I like that he’s a bit of a bookworm!" Jackson, and McAllister's subsequent Princes, also danced the triumphant grandeur of the Act III Pas de deux as the end of Désiré's arc from lost loneliness to fulfilment, from infatuation to centred love, and the discovery of his true regal nature.
Désiré's evolution is also expressed through costume. McAllister is a big fan of the Act II outfit, with its gold waistcoat, billowing white shirt and blue velvet jacket: "I told Gabriela I wanted him to look like Mr Darcy, and she totally nailed it." In his Act II guise, the Prince is a little Darcy-ish: aloof, unsatisfied. In his Act III regalia of snowy white, curlicued with ceremonial gold, he is both a jubilant bridegroom and every inch the monarch-in-waiting.