The Australian Ballet

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Beauty's Bluebirds

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Is there a more charming pas de deux in all of classical ballet than the Bluebird? Airy, delicate, nimble, the choreography captures the moment when a bird teaches a princess to fly – all set to Tchaikovsky’s trilling music, perhaps the closest an orchestra has ever got to birdsong.

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Ako Kondo in David McAllister's The Sleeping Beauty. Photography Daniel Boud

The Bluebird and his princess are part of a flock of story-book characters that come to Aurora and Dèsirè’s wedding in the last act of The Sleeping Beauty (in David McAllister’s production, these are the Prince’s friends, dressed up as characters from his favourite book of fairy tales). Among them are figures more recognisable to a modern audience: Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots. The Bluebirds (as they are often called, although the Princess Florine is a woman) come from a literary fairy-tale dreamed up in the 17th-century Parisian salons; it was written by Madame d’Aulnoy.

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Jade Wood and Marcus Morelli in David McAllister's The Sleeping Beauty. Photography Jeff Busby

It’s a complicated tale, involving magic eggs, echo chambers and warring enchanters, but the basic tale goes like this: a King has a lovely daughter, Florine. He marries for a second time, and his wife and her ugly daughter, Truitonne (or Troutina – she looks like a fish) torment Florine. When King Charming visits their court and falls in love with Florine, they lock her in a tower and try all kinds of strategems to make him marry Troutina. When he refuses, they have him turned into a Bluebird. In this guise, he visits Florine in her tower, bringing her jewels and singing his love to her.

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Ako Kondo rehearsing the Bluebird Pas de deux. Photography Kate Longley

There’s much more to the story (don’t worry, it all ends happily) but this is the conceit The Sleeping Beauty captures: a Bluebird in love with a woman. In their pas de deux, the Bluebird will dance a phrase, and Florine will playfully imitate him. This theme also runs through the score, as flute (Florine) and clarinet (Bluebird) delightfully echo one another.

Is the Bluebird teaching her to fly, perhaps to escape from her tower? Or is Florine translating the Bluebird’s song to the court, as some claim? She does make listening and singing motions with her hands at some points, but perhaps she’s just trilling to her lover.

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Chengwu Guo in David McAllister's The Sleeping Beauty. Photography Jeff Busby

The Bluebird Pas de deux is notable for its bravura work for the male dancer, who must stay aloft for virtually his whole variation and the coda. David McAllister was one of our great Bluebirds, and it's a joy to see our new generation of Bluebirds take flight in his Beauty.