San Francisco Ballet’s production of the timeless fairy tale “The Sleeping Beauty” is set in Russia in the 17th and 18th centuries. The curtain rises on the Imperial court for the Prologue and Act I, where society is still bound by Byzantine manners and fashion. Acts II and III take place one hundred years later, after Peter the Great had ruled and opened the doors to the influence of European styles and cultures.
Prologue: The Christening
Once upon a time in a faraway land, a princess named Aurora was born to a Tsar and Tsarina. A grand celebration is arranged for her christening. All the fairies of the kingdom are invited and the Fairies of Tenderness, Playfulness, Generosity, Serenity, and Courage each bestow their gifts on the princess. At last it is the Lilac Fairy’s turn. But before she can bestow her gift, the Fairy of Darkness appears, blazing with anger. She had been forgotten; no invitation was sent to her. She, too, has something for the baby: a curse. One day Aurora will prick her finger on a spindle and die.
Anita Paciotti as the Fairy of Darkness in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty
The Lilac Fairy has yet to make her offering. The benevolent Fairy cannot remove the Fairy of Darkness’ curse, but she can soften it. She promises that Aurora shall not die from the prick of her finger, but will fall into a deep sleep for one hundred years and be awakened by a prince’s kiss.
Act I: The Spell
Sixteen years have passed, and the kingdom is celebrating Princess Aurora’s birthday. Four suitors from the North, South, East and West have come to the Imperial court to seek her hand in marriage.
Sasha De Sola as Aurora in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty
During the revelry, an old woman approaches the Princess and offers her a gift such as the girl has never before seen. It is a spindle! Delighted, Aurora plays with the curious object and then pricks her finger. She falls to the ground. The old woman throws off her cape, revealing herself to be the vengeful Fairy of Darkness. Having fulfilled her curse, she vanishes in triumph. But the Lilac Fairy returns to mitigate the curse, as promised. She weaves a spell of sleep over the entire Imperial court, and creates a forest that grows magically and covers the palace.
Act II: The Vision
One hundred years have passed, and young Prince Desiré is out hunting with members of his court. But he grows bored with the hunt and separates from his companions. He dreams of a love he fears he shall never attain. The Lilac Fairy appears and shows him a vision of Princess Aurora. Enchanted by what he has seen, Desiré begs the Fairy to take him to Aurora. The Lilac Fairy takes him through the magical forest, leading him to the hidden palace where Aurora sleeps. When the Prince finds the Sleeping Beauty he awakens her with a kiss. The spell is broken.
Act III: The Wedding
The entire kingdom joyously celebrates the wedding of Princess Aurora to Prince Desiré. All pay tribute to the bride and groom, while individual characters dance for the delight of the court. In a final apotheosis, the Lilac Fairy appears and blesses the marriage.
Header Image: Sasha De Sola in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty // © Erik Tomasson