Stage + Studio, A Louisville Ballet Blog: Breathing Life into the Tale by Annie Honebrink

Characters breathe life into stories.  While plot may drive a tale and costumes and scenery enhance, it is the characters themselves that make a story come alive.  The Sleeping Beauty offers a broad spectrum of characters.  Peasants to aristocrats.  Good to evil.  Though fairy tales may often appear simple and frivolous at first glance, there is in fact much depth and gravity to be gleaned from these ageless tales.  There is a reason these stories have withstood the test of time.  They continue to enchant audiences.  New adaptations come into creation, delving into the stories beneath the surface.  Finding new purpose.  New resolve.  New objectives.  While new versions of these classic tales continue to arise, the original stories remain a driving force in our culture.  The characters in Louisville Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty are the same that danced in the original production of the ballet in 1890.  However, every dancer can bring his or her own unique qualities to the ballet and the embodied character.  Through the beautiful combination of movement, mime, and musicality, Louisville Ballet dancers will draw audiences into the fantasy that is The Sleeping Beauty, transporting themselves and viewers into a new land and different way of life.

Alun Jones asserts that The Sleeping Beauty is a tremendous challenge for the dancers.  Helen Starr affirms that from the point of view of a dancer, Aurora is the peak of classical repertoire.  She expounds that it is not so much that this role is the most difficult—there is nothing that a well-trained student is not capable of dancing—but when it is all put together and when one puts together all the years of ballerinas before—it gets Big.  Starr still remembers the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach during the garland dance music.  The first section for Aurora includes the notorious Rose Adagio.  “If you miss it, everyone will know,” she says, comparing the Rose Adage for Aurora to the beginning of the opera Aida for the tenor.  Natalia Ashikhmina says that the challenge for Aurora is to leave 116 years on the stage.  Even though the princess is asleep for one hundred of those years, the dancer still portrays Aurora’s dreams during that time.  Ashikhmina describes the importance of what a dancer does with her hands for this role.  The hands have much meaning—they are not just empty wrist exercises.  She refers to them as “lace” or “embroidery,” emphasizing the texture, delicacy, and beauty to be achieved.  Erica De La O expresses that this role “makes me fall in love with Tchaikovsky all over again.”  She refers to the layers of the music, and how these reflect the layers of Aurora’s character.  On the surface there is narrative; underneath invites other thoughts and memories, interpretations of the gifts bestowed upon her at her christening, exposure of deeper qualities.  Both Ashikhmina and De La O reflect upon the evolution of Aurora, from a spunky, bold teenager, to a searching young woman seeking maturity and love with eagerness, to a wise, stable, serene woman.  The dancing reflects this development of character, as do the costumes.

Kristopher Wojtera refers to The Sleeping Beauty as a “treasure.”  He emphasizes this ballet’s fundamental position in the classical repertoire.  The prince in The Sleeping Beauty, Prince Florimund, differs from princes in other ballets, such as Swan Lake’s Siegfried, in his simplicity.  While Siegfried is quite complicated and given much depth within the story of the ballet, Florimund is given very little in terms of time and dramatic material. Mark Krieger explains that the prince in this ballet lacks in story content and motivation, leaving the role open for a great deal of interpretation.  While there is much to pull from that is not in the story, the challenge is developing a character in a very limited amount of time.  Wojtera expands that although many of the same themes exist for Florimund’s character as those of other ballets’ princes, the difficulty is presenting a story and creating a role in the time given.  The prince does not appear until Act II, and by Act III he is already in love with and married to Aurora.  Therefore, all of the character development must take place within Act II.  If the dancer hopes to create any sort of arch for the character, Krieger maintains that it must be done within the constraints of one act, as opposed to other instances in which a dancer has an entire ballet to set up the pivotal point in conveying the prince’s purpose, personality, temperament, and integrity.  While this is a challenge, it also offers dancers an opportunity to expand the character and his meaning.  Wojtera states that dancing this role in such a monumental and iconic ballet is a privilege.

Two key driving forces in The Sleeping Beauty are the characters of Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy.  These two roles reside at complete opposite ends of the spectrum, offering both extremes and emphasizing the concept of opposition in all things.  Carabosse embodies all that is vile, evil, and cruel in the world.  Lilac is the epitome of goodness.  She is pure and true.  In order to access these extremes of Good and Evil, the dancers in these roles have had to study and examine the characters.  Kateryna Sellers approaches Carabosse by going back and filling in the blanks.  The audience does not see any of the background for this character.  Viewers’ first encounter with her is as a wicked villain.  Sellers explores what makes Carabosse such a cruel, vindictive being.  She considers how embarrassed and insulted the character must have felt after not being invited to the baby Aurora’s christening.  As one of the most powerful individuals in this fairy tale realm, to not be invited to such an important event while fairies with far less power than herself were invited must have caused deep fury.  To be treated like nothing—the rage that this must have produced.  Juxtaposed to Carabosse, the Lilac Fairy represents light, pure magic.  Ashley Thursby uses the word “wisdom” to describe Lilac.  In approaching this role, Thursby tries to embody this wisdom.  “She knows that the light she has within her is bigger than that darkness,” she says.  Lilac knows she is stronger than Carabosse; yet, everything she does she does without ego.  Lilac is a driving force in the storytelling of The Sleeping Beauty.  She guides both the audience as well as the characters along.  Helen Daigle has the unique opportunity to dance both the role of Carabosse and that of the Lilac Fairy.  She enjoys the challenge of dancing in the same scene and using the same mime to say and express very different things.  She finds that when playing Carabosse there is a freedom that comes in knowing that even though she is trying to spew vial, mean, nastiness into the story—the character will not win.  She states, “No matter how much you throw out there, she isn’t going to win.”  The music for these two characters is essential in developing their personas.  It speaks the true nature and spirit of the two, warning the audience when trouble is about to ensue, and generating a sigh of relief when peace has arrived.

The Sleeping Beauty has over 170 roles.  Starr, who has danced almost every female role in the ballet, emphasizes the importance of each and every character on the cast sheet—from the humble background parts to the Princess Aurora and villainous Carabosse.  While main elements of the story are told through the leading characters, each person on stage brings the story to life.  Without the guards, the nursemaids, the court, the peasants—the seemingly secondary, trivial parts—the ballet would hold no flavor.  No grandeur.  No majesty.  It is those side characters that give the tale weight.  Life.  Light.  They tell the audience how to feel—when to be frightened, when to clap for joy.  They guide the story along.  Undetected, overlooked.  Starr stresses the value in these roles and the beneficial skills that can be gleaned through them by dancers.  These are the roles that teach dancers the art of stagecraft—how to be a part of a scene and enhance it.  How to grow as an artist and learn how to act.  How to find a new perspective.  How to BE on stage.  These tools are integral to the art of ballet.

The Sleeping Beauty exhibits storytelling in its most classic form.  The endurance of these classical renditions and these lasting fairy tale stories is imperative for art.  Through these ballets we bridge the gap between generations, between cultures.  These characters can remind us of our history, while also relating to our present.  Through such tales, we can be brought together and united, remembering that simple goal for humanity: defeat the darkness with the light.


Ashikhimina, N.  (2017, March 23).  Personal Interview.


Daigle, H.  (2017, March 22).  Personal Interview.


De La O, E.  (2017 March 23).  Personal Interview.


Jones, A.  (2017, March 7).  Personal Interview.


Krieger, M.  (2017, March 22).  Personal Interview.


Sellers, K.  (2017, March 22).  Personal Interview.


Starr, H.  (2017, March 14).  Personal Interview.


Thursby, A.  (2017, March 22).  Personal Interview.
Wojtera, K.  (2017, March 24).  Personal Interview.