“Sleeping Beauty” is the ultimate “happily ever after” fairy tale.
Complete with a beautiful young princess, an evil fairy and a magical procession of fairy tale characters, this is classical ballet at its fantastical best.
The Kansas City Ballet will present “The Sleeping Beauty” for eight performances beginning Friday at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. This will be first time the ballet has mounted the work.
As its stunning production of “Swan Lake” demonstrated last year, the ballet under artistic director Devon Carney can now handle some of the most demanding works. But, Carney said, “Sleeping Beauty” presents even more challenges than “Swan Lake.”
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“It is more complicated in the number of roles,” Carney said. “You’ve got the fairies in the prologue. Then you’ve got the Lilac Fairy and her attendants, cavaliers, Carabosse and her minions, Princess Florine and a whole other group of fairy tale characters that includes Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf and Puss in Boots. It’s huge. Just massive.”
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” follows the story familiar to fans of the Walt Disney version, which, by the way, used Tchaikovsky’s music as the basis for its score. The evil fairy Carabosse, angry that she was not invited to the christening of Princess Aurora, casts a spell on the infant girl so that she grows into a beautiful young woman, who, on her 16th birthday, will prick her finger on a spindle and die. Luckily the good Lilac Fairy mitigates the curse, causing Aurora to fall asleep for 100 years until she is roused from her slumber by the kiss of a handsome prince.
As he did with the ballet’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” production in October, Carney also has quite a history with this fairy tale.
He first danced the role of Prince Désiré with the Boston Ballet in 1979 and was instructed in the fine points of “Sleeping Beauty” by a remarkable lineage of teachers.
“I’m passing on a tradition of what I danced when I was younger,” he said. “My teacher was a fantastic classical dancer and his teacher was a very well-known dancer who studied with (Enrico) Cecchetti, who was one of the great ballet masters who went to Russia and taught in the Russian schools for a while.”
Cecchetti, in fact, danced the role of Carabosse in the first production of “Sleeping Beauty” at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre in 1890.
Carney says the version he is creating for the Kansas City Ballet takes its inspiration from the landmark Serge Diaghilev production presented in London in 1921. Diaghilev’s “Sleeping Beauty” was noted for its refinement and grace, qualities Carney hopes to emulate.
“It’s a style, a way of moving,” Carney said. “The English version is a little more subtle. The arms aren’t as flashy. The legs don’t kick as high, and that’s more of what the period would have been. We’re starting to move out of the romantic era with ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ It’s an impressionistic era as opposed to ‘Giselle.’ It’s a subtle time period.”
The sets were designed by the esteemed English ballet designer Peter Farmer for the Royal Ballet in 1973. Farmer, who died this year on Jan. 1 at the age of 80, created designs that are gorgeous and opulent, yet, to use Carney’s favorite word for this production, subtle.
“We have a beautiful set that is from a different time period, so the colors are muted, which is really good,” Carney said. “We’re looking back in time, just like some of those beautiful impressionistic paintings that the Bloch Gallery is now presenting in the Nelson-Atkins museum.”
The sets and costumes have followed Carney in his long career with “Sleeping Beauty.” Boston Ballet, which bought them from the Royal Ballet, first used them for its production in which Carney danced. Boston Ballet later sold them to Cincinnati Ballet, where Carney used them for his popular production of the ballet.
“We had lovely reviews and the audience went nuts and loved it, and then I came here,” Carney said. “Now we’re renting the costumes from Cincinnati and I’m looking through them and I notice names of people I know. And I recognize more and more and more. It really means a lot to me to see names of friends of mine, some of whom are no longer alive, that were dancing these roles. In these sets and costumes, I see faces from generations ago.”
It is this rich tradition stretching back to 1890 that Carney is now passing on to Kansas City.
“‘Sleeping Beauty’ is a timeless classic, the coming of age of a young girl,” Carney said. “It’s a young girl who goes through some difficulties and finally finds her true love and lives happily ever after. Anyone would love a fairy tale like that to happen to them.”
Musica Vocale in a cappella
The superb vocal ensemble Musica Vocale will present its spring concert Sunday, March 26, at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral.
The program, conducted by Arnold Epley, will feature a cappella music, including works by Heinrich Schutz, Hugo Distler, Johann Nepomuk David and Geoffrey Wilcken. The centerpiece of the concert is Herbert Howells’ Requiem.
Howells wrote his Requiem in 1932 for the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, but it wasn’t published until 1980. Howells does not strictly follow the Catholic Requiem Mass, but inserted Psalm texts and scriptural passages from the Catholic and Anglican liturgies. This magnificent unaccompanied choral work was influenced by Gloucester Cathedral, with its soaring, vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows. Howells called the cathedral “a pillar of fire in my imagination.”
2 p.m. March 26. Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th St. $10-$15. Tickets available at the door. For more information, visit MusicaVocale.org.