The clouds are parting; the harp and the celeste sound their otherwordly notes. It's time to meet the fairies.
13 Sep 2017
What a rich creation The Sleeping Beauty is. The simple fairytale is layered with intricate symbolism and subtle layers of meaning; Tchaikovsky's music, Petipa's choreography and Vsevolozhsky's scenario beautifully echo and magnify one other. As the production is handed on through the generations and around the world it acquires further nuances, taking on the imprints of national character and different creative minds, but its original structure glows through as strongly as ever.
It's a ballet full of entrancing moments - the Rose Adage, the vision scene, the Bluebird Pas de deux - and the appearance of Aurora's six fairy godmothers at the baby princess' christening is one of the most charming of these. Each of the glittering, fluttering godmothers has her own distinct character, movement style and motifs. In David McAllister's Beauty, they also have luscious costumes that reflect their attributes.
The Lilac Fairy
The strong and loving leader of the fairy realm. The fairies' names and attributes alter from production to production, but Lilac is the same throughout (although she performed her variation to the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy in Diaghilev's 1921 production The Sleeping Princess). Each godmother is given a present when she arrives: in David McAllister's production, she is given sprigs of lilac, and she is about to bestow beauty, in both an inner and outer sense, on Aurora when she is forced to use her gift to counteract Carabosse's curse. (Luckily, Aurora turns out beautiful anyway.) McAllister says, "I think of her as the queen of the fairies, and her movement is imperial, flowing and gracious. All her lines are so pure; she's the epitome of a Petipa ballerina. She's a protector, and she actively works to make sure that Aurora's curse will be broken by Prince Désiré. I think she'll be there throughout Aurora's life, watching over her and guiding her."
Lilac's costume, designed by Gabriela Tylesova, has an extraordinary skirt inspired by lilac petals.
The Fairy of Grace
The Fairy of Grace is known as Candide (honesty, purity) in the original 1890 Petipa production, and as the Fairy of the Crystal Fountain in many other versions, including the landmark Sadler's Wells production that opened the Royal Opera House after the Second World War. Her gift in the McAllister Beauty is a crystal glass. McAllister says, "The Grace variation doesn't have the tricky technical moments of some of the others, but I think it's the hardest to do well. It requires such a regal carriage, such balance and coordination. She barely comes off pointe, and she's constantly changing her balance. There's no margin for error. It's like porcelain (or crystal!) - it's so clear and beautiful that you immediately notice a crack."
Grace's costume is as shimmering and translucent as crystal or water, bright with Aurora Borealis sequins and Swarovski beads.
The Fairy of Joy
"She's the party girl!" says David. She's known in many productions as Coulante (flowing), Fleur de farine (wheat flower) or The Fairy of the Enchanted Garden, and her gift is traditionally beauty (hence the name Wheat Flower - the flour made from the flowers evokes face powder). However, McAllister thought Joy suited the music of her variation, with its hand-clap beat. "She's in and out so quickly and there's so much enthusiasm in the music. The variation just makes me smile every time I see it." Joy leaps around the stage and spreads her limbs gleefully in high arabesques, ending with whipping turns. "She's a whirling dervish of energy!"
Her present in the McAllister production is a bouquet of roses, because she is often known as the Rose Fairy, and her costume is constructed like the petals of a rose.
The Fairy of Generosity
In traditional Russian culture, bread is a symbol of welcome, fertility and good fortune. Breadcrumbs are placed in a baby's cradle as a blessing. The Fairy of Generosity is also known as Miettes qui tombent (scattered breadcrumbs) or the Fairy of the Woodland Glades. For McAllister, the gift she is giving in her variation is not only a good life, but the ability to share that happiness. Aurora, as a ruler, will be a benefactor. Generosity's calm, expansive movements call for breadth, and when David coaches her variation he asks for a full, open expression in attitudes and port de bras. It's as if the fairy is strewing largesse as Tchaikovsky's plucked strings mimic the delicate fall of the breadcrumbs.
Generosity receives a cornucopia overflowing with the bounty of the harvest, and her tutu is adorned with wheat sheaves and cornflowers.
The Fairy of Musicality
The fairy everyone wants to pick up and hug! Originally called Canari qui chante (songbird) or Fairy of the Songbirds, she's most often known affectionately and informally as Canary Fairy. She flits onstage to Tchaikovsky's delicious trills, fluttering her hands to mimic the song spilling from her lips. She's given a little harp in McAllister's Beauty, and her gift to Aurora is a beautiful voice, both for song and speech. "As a ruler, Aurora will enchant with her voice. Sometimes it's not what people say, it's the way they say it."
Musicality's tutu is canary yellow, decorated with feathers and treble clefs. The order of the Joy, Generosity and Musicality variations is a delightful instance of the symbolic web woven by the ballet's original creators: the wheat flower leads into the falling breadcrumbs, which attract the songbirds.
The Fairy of Temperament
Temperament is known as Violente (Force) or the Fairy of the Golden Vine. Her gift to Aurora, McAllister says, is "backbone. She will be decisive, no one will ever push her around or manipulate her. She won't be a pushover." Temperament's spirited dance is often known as the 'finger variation' because she points with her index fingers. Not in the McAllister version, however. "I thought that looked a bit spiky and belligerent, so we took it out. She still points, but with more of a 'ballet hand'. The variation is "emphatic, with great clarity" - all flicking legs and crisp finishes.
The design of McAllister's Fairy of Temperament picks up on the Golden Vine name. Tylesova refers to her fondly as "the wine fairy". She is given a bunch of golden leaves and grapes to match her headdress, and corkscrew curls on the tutu's skirt mimic the young shoots of a grape vine. They also seem to make visible her crackling energy.
The tutus have been designed so that pairs of the fairies subtly match. Lilac and Temperament both have layered petal skirts; Musicality and Joy's unfurl like roses; Grace and Generosity's have a more vertical construction, like the rays of a sun. When the fairies return to the stage for Aurora's wedding, they dance in these pairs.
We'd hate to repeat Catalabutte's catastrophic mistake and leave out Carabosse, the Fairy of Wisdom. She's not part of the christening variations, but you can read all about her here.