Under the Spell of Aurora
In the ultimate fairy-tale ballet, Aurora is the ultimate fairy-tale princess. The role offers challenges both technical and artistic.
Dance Magazine asked seven ballerinas, several of whom have performed in more than one version of the ballet, about how they have tackled it. The interviews were conducted by Katia Bachko, Khara Hanlon, Sonja Kostich, Wendy Perron, Hanna Rubin, and Jennifer Stahl.
The Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet
Performing the role is the epitome of what it means to be a ballerina. Aurora passes through so many phases of a woman’s life. It’s crucial to be different in every act, to show it emotionally as well as in the quality of your movement. The Rose Adagio is Aurora’s coming-out party. She is meeting these suitors for the first time, and the music is full of that excitement. In the vision scene when she’s under the spell, Tchaikovsky is a genius in the way you feel that mourning quality, that sadness, and yet there’s beauty. Then the prince finds her and kisses her. You sense that joy in the freedom to begin with someone new. In Act III, Aurora has found her prince, she has faced fear and death. It’s a partnership now; it’s not all about her.
Antoinette Sibley coached me in my Aurora at the Royal, and the way she did the role was so calm, so elegant and graceful, that it gives the viewer a sense of peace to watch her. I was not prepared when I first did Auora at NYCB. It was put together quite quickly. My performances with the Royal redeemed my capability of performing the role and doing it justice.
We work so hard every day. Those moments dancing roles like Aurora you can’t recapture. Enjoy them.
Xiao Nan Yu
National Ballet of Canada
My biggest challenge is having the stamina to make it through some of the variations. Aurora is the fairy tale-princess: elegant, sweet, and young. It’s not very difficult to present that. I was 16 once. I remember what it was like.
My favorite scene is the one with the Rose Adagio. It’s her first entrance in front of the audience and the company. The steps are organic. It slowly builds and by the end you feel like you’ve achieved something. The balances are a test. I’m trained to do them and if I’m comfortable they’ll happen. Sometimes I’m not 100 percent, but it’s only a short scene. If I fall, there are still about two-and-a-half hours after that. There’s one balance halfway through in à la seconde that sets you up for the rest of them. In the vision scene I think of myself as transparent. It’s almost like I’m a ghost, but I’m a real person. I’m what the prince thinks a perfect woman might be.
Aurora is usually the first full-evening ballet a young dancer does. Just remember it’s very straightforward: She sees a handsome prince and he saves her. It doesn’t have a complicated story but it’s technically hard. It gets you into great shape.
New York City Ballet
Aurora is radically different in the three acts. For the birthday party I try to be girlish; I’m looking at my parents for reassurance and to others for love. For the vision scene, I have softer movements—not as many sharpnesses. By the wedding scene, Aurora is calm with a proud, grand walk.
The ballerina doesn’t get much rest in our production; she has to sustain of a high level of dancing the whole evening. There’s a double manège of coupés jetés at the end of a long passage where she has to be very on top of her legs. That’s technically difficult and exhausting. For the Rose Adagio, the main thing for me is to be in the moment and not let my thoughts skitter ahead to the balances.
can be about the passage of girlhood to womanhood and the loss of innocence, the sudden awareness we all get at some point that the world can be a dangerous place.
Take it one entrance at a time. Remember, it’s the story—the magic of the fairy tale—that’s important. The audience just wants to be transported to another place.
is the epitome of pure classical technique. There’s no embellishment. In portraying a teenager, you have to be light and pure in your thoughts—don’t get too complex. I think of Sleeping Beauty like a rose: It’s the most beautiful flower. How would you smell it? Aurora exudes everything you’d desire in a woman.
In the Rose Adagio, you’ve got to play with music. If it’s not working out, just go through it until the end. It’s more about the relationship between you and the suitors. One woman and four guys—that’s a dream! I think about the balances, but that’s not what reads to the audience. In the vision scene she has this elusive, will-o’-the-wisp allure. It’s about the relationship between you and your partner. A lot of it is timing. The kiss is pretty clumsy in this production because Aurora’s on such a big bed and set changes are going on. I don’t even have a moment to realize who he is.
If you are involved in the music, you’ll know what you need to do. Investigate that music and learn. It tells you where you are in your character.
San Francisco Ballet
At the first entrance of my first show, I was onstage and thought, Omigod, I’m gonna start crying. It was a dream come true. My favorite scene has the Rose Adagio. I know the audience loves that dance, so there is a lot of pressure. But in rehearsal you work so much on the technique that you can let go of it onstage and concentrate on the presentation, acting, and interaction with your partners. I work on creating a story. I like to draw on real emotions to keep the audience with me the whole night. And I love the music. Listening to it gives me energy and calms me at the same time.
I watched videos of Elizabeth Loscavio doing Aurora. I always admired her dancing, her musicality. She was so strong, but her upper body was so soft. So I took some things from her and put in some of my own things. As for “the kiss,” one night my prince went to kiss me on the cheek and hstuck his nose in my eye. All I thought was, Don’t laugh.
It’s a surprise every night. I’ve always thought that after doing Aurora and Juliet I could retire.
Tchaikovsky and Petipa, they give you everything. In the overture you immediately hear two themes: Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy. You understand that the story is about good and evil. The first entrance is clear, light, and healthy—everything’s natural. You send laughter and love to the audience. Aurora’s variation in the first act is long, but it’s natural movement. You need to show your feelings in every step. To do glissade arabesque and tombé with feeling is no less difficult than 32 fouettés, and maybe more. When she pricks her finger, it is bad energy. It’s like when you have some illness and you cannot come up from bed.
After the kiss, Aurora has a different feeling in her heart. Like a sunrise, everything opens up and it’s a soft light. She cannot be happy like she was happy in the first act. Her smile is different; her eyes are different. The last pas de deux is about love. But because it is in court, they never embrace each other like they need to go to bed. It’s about style and how she is changing—no more light jumps.
First read the fairy tale. Second, listen to the music; it tells you everything.
American Ballet Theatre, Kirov Ballet
I know of nothing harder in the classics than Aurora. Among Petipa’s masterpieces, this ballet crystallizes the classical style. There’s nothing to hide behind. You must have perfect training to perform this part well. When they asked Ulavona what the hardest ballet was, she said Sleeping Beauty. Physically, this role is very hard on the feet. They’re just dead after Aurora.
For me, the role is not as dramatic as Giselle or Juliet. It’s more about the technical skill of the ballerina. In the first act, it’s all youth, and you must show that everything is still ahead of you, and that you’re choosing your suitors. Then you have this long, beautiful adagio. How you do this section sets the tone for the rest of the performance.
I loved the way Kolpakova danced the part in the St. Petersburg style of the Maryinsky Theater. And before her, Alla Sizova was also very beautiful.
It doesn’t matter if you’re dancing Aurora for the first time or the 50th, you can dance this role all your life and polish it like a diamond.