Wake up to Sleeping Beauty

Barry C Chung

A timeless fairytale is taking to the stage and being told through music and dance

Barry C Chung |

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Jin Yao, the lead dancer in the Hong Kong Ballet's version of Sleeping Beauty
The classic fairytale Sleeping Beauty has a long and fabled history. The original tale of the young princess falling into a century-long slumber was published in 1697 by French author Charles Perrault; it, in turn, was derived from ancient folklore.

In 1890, famed Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was asked by the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, now called the Mariinsky Theatre, to produce a ballet score for the popular tale. It is widely considered his magnus opus. Tchaikovsky's work, however, is based more on the Brothers Grimm version of the fairytale.

As with any tale passed down through the generations, debate over its origins inevitably arises. "Everyone has their own interpretation of the story," Cynthia Harvey, producer of the Hong Kong Ballet's rendition of Sleeping Beauty, tells Young Post.

"You'll have the Russians saying this is the right version, or the English saying this is the only version. There is no such thing."

Harvey, a former American Ballet Theatre and Royal Ballet principal dancer, has created a stripped-down version without the mime sequences. Mime sequences are a tool ballet dancers use to "speak" without dialogue. The use of gestures and body movements - if done properly - is enough to give the audience meaning otherwise conveyed through speech.

Although a lot of the fight scenes were eliminated, the core of the story remains the same. "The main thing with this fairytale is good over evil," Harvey says. "The prince does not have to fight with a sword to get rid of the evil fairy Carabosse. For me it's about the love when he finally kisses her awake ... the love of the Prince and Aurora win the day. That's really the essence of the story for me."

Last year, the Hong Kong Ballet approached Harvey about doing the ballet. Selecting her was a simple choice for the company since she had been involved in Sleeping Beauty productions many times in the past.

Along with dancing in five separate productions as Princess Aurora, she has also helped re-stage Sleeping Beauty as a producer - most notably in Norway, where she was asked to re-jig some of the group sequences.

The musical element of a ballet is critical. It flows through a ballerina and gives life to a performance. For a producer, knowing the music is crucial. He or she needs to figure out where to place the dancers, and which bit of music they are reacting to.

Unusually, though, Harvey began working on this production not at a studio, but at a desk with a stack of coins. "The [choreography] process for me was sitting in a room with a bunch of coins, moving them around until I could get to a studio," she says.

Sleeping Beauty is considered a classical ballet piece. A lot of the sequences have been handed down for centuries. As such, it has minimal modern sequences. But "classical ballet shouldn't be boring, because of the purity of the movement it should actually be more exciting", Harvey says. "And sometimes we forget that - we think classical is very soft and very airy-fairy. But it should really have some meat to it, in my mind."

With such an experienced expert at the helm, you can be sure this production of the classic will be extremely meaty.

The Sleeping Beauty will be on stage at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre from October 29. Tickets and information from Urbtix and from the Hong Kong Ballet website.