Dornröschen” is a 132 year old ballet. Its premiere in Saint Petersburg in the winter of 1890 was a great moment for the theatre. It is generally considered to be the greatest example of classical dancing. Because there was no shortage of fantastic and very differently talented dancers at that time, the ballet, whose libretto was written by the choreographer Marius Petipa together with his theater director Alexandrowitsch Vsewoloschski based on a fairy tale by Charles Perrault, employs a large number of figures and characters: majestic and flighty, uncanny and flirtatious, fairytale and radiated, embittered and blessed. Puss in Boots jumps through his third act, and when he has disappeared into the alleys, the wolf chases after Little Red Riding Hood. “Sleeping Beauty” has silver and golden fairies, those with lilac or crumbs in the prefix, fast-growing hedges, princes who are more precisely named Chéri or Charmant, personified evil as well as good, in short: the cast is diverse.
For Martin Schläpfer, that’s not enough in Vienna. He adds a faun and a forest fairy, some music by Giacinto Scelsi, which the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera cannot or does not want to play and which is therefore recorded, and he shows – shockingly – 98 percent of his own dances. For his very manageable ideas, he throws away almost all of Marius Petipa’s choreography. Only the Rose Adagio, in which Sleeping Beauty, the princess called Aurora in the ballet, dances at the same time as the four princes who ask for her hand, and in the last act of the Grand Pas de Deux by Aurora and Prince Désiré on the occasion of their wedding have it in Martin Schläpfers composure done.
Colourful, tasteless costumes
But what happens choreographically instead of Petipa’s imaginative variations, sometimes running ahead of the music, sometimes whirling around it, the movement phrases floating on Tchaikovsky’s beats as if on waves of beauty, his interesting movement neologisms, the sweetness of his Port de Bras’ or his epaulement, with which the over the shoulder-looking ballerinas gently screwing their upper bodies dancing in the past and future at the same time? What, please, Vienna State Opera? Not much original, but always in grand gestures.
The queen dances more majestically than Louis XIV, the evil fairy Carabosse like a Hollywood diva, the prince lies on his stomach with enthusiasm in the vision scene when the lilac fairy makes the image of Aurora sleeping behind the hedge appear to him. A lot of things seem silly on this evening, which has also expelled Petipa’s playfulness from the ballet and replaced it with conservativeness, just as stuffy and intentional as Catherine Voeffray’s colorful, tasteless costumes and Florian Etti’s stage set with roses the size of soccer goals.
Nothing gained, but much lost
The noble ruling couple is so terribly noble that they put their heads together in a friendly manner with his master of ceremonies, Catalabutte. Carabosse is, according to Martin Schläpfer in the program booklet, the “mature and most powerful of the fairies”. Only the princes who don’t get Aurora are stupid, which you can tell by their silly attire. That’s a new interpretation that goes all out. Nothing gained, but a lot lost, that’s how you have to summarize Schläpfer’s self-empowerment. The definition of the classic is, and one cannot remind the history-forgotten contemporary dance world often enough, that one would like to experience such works again and again, because there are endless interesting things to study about them and always new perspectives to discover.
Alexej Ratmansky crowned his series of classic reconstructions in 2015 with “Sleeping Beauty”. This is a turning point in dance history, a cultural turn. “To tinker with the classics”, as the tinkering with the classics is called in the relevant literature, is more superfluous than ever in this new era of dance, which has finally reconstructed its most valuable originals and knows and therefore no longer changes with just oral and physical transfer and processing. Now the dance world should finally come to the conclusion that separating Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” from Petipa’s original choreography is like separating the orchestral music from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” from the sung arias: the instrumental score would remain, the singers would do something else sing to it. Exactly, that sounds crazy, unimaginable. It’s a reality at the Ballet of the Vienna State Opera.
Even the Swedish choreographer Mats Ek, who in 1996 took off the dancers’ pointe shoes for his – by the way, great – dance theater version of The Sleeping Beauty, said back then that either you really have to have an idea for a completely different way of telling the story or you have to have your fingers on Petipa’s steps to let. Ek’s princess Aurora went completely off the rails and after marrying the prince gave birth to the drug dealer’s child. That was radically crazy, but coherent and full of unforgettable, sometimes very funny scenes. Schläpfer’s Viennese version is a hundred sleepy years away from that. If you think about how many contemporary choreographers still think they have to choreograph “Romeo and Juliet” or “Giselle” or “Swan Lake” as if it were the year 1966, then a whole generation is obviously wasting the future of dance, the chance that to write classics of their time.