Sleeping Beauty is a classic fairy tale involving a beautiful princess, a sleeping enchantment, and a handsome prince. The version collected by the Brothers Grimm was an orally transmitted version of the original literary tale by Charles Perrault published in 1697. Yet the story is much older than that, dating back to 1330-44 when it was composed for Perceforest, a six-box series of romantic prose and poetry.
Sleeping Beauty was adapted for the ballet, the most renowned being composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tschaikovsky. The second of his three ballets, Sleeping Beauty premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1890. At the premiere Tsar Alexander III summoned Tchaikovsky to the imperial box. The Tsar made the simple remark 'Very nice,' which seemed to have irritated Tchaikovsky, who had likely expected a more favorable response.
Despite the Tsar’s lack of effusion, the success of Sleeping Beauty speaks for itself. It was performed 200 times in the first ten years, and has become one of the classical repertoire’s most famous ballets. Unfortunately, Tschaikovsky never had the luxury of witnessing the instant success of the ballet outside of Russia, as he died just three years after Sleeping Beauty premiered.
Sleeping Beauty has become synonymous with the Russian arts. In celebration of the 300 anniversary of St. Petersburg, Glitterati Incorporated published a new version of the story, reimagined as a children’s book. The Sleeping Beauty: A Journey to the Ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre is an exciting retelling of the romantic classic story, recast to follow the Mariinsky version of the ballet.
The Glitterati version follows the story of a young girl and avid ballet fan, Lena-Gabrielle, as she wends her way through the streets of St. Petersburg in search of the Mariinsky Theatre to meet Tchaikovsky, and to see Sleeping Beauty. The story is adapted by Ima Ebong from the Mariinsky Theatre libretto by Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolozhsky and Marius Petipa, and from Robert Samber’s 1729 translation of The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood by Charles Perrault. Samber’s volume is the first edition of Perrault’s fairy tales in English and the sole recorded copy of the work in existence.
For the Glitterati edition of The Sleeping Beauty, we are taken to the theater with Lena-Gabrielle and we watch the magic unfold, page after page, with a series of exquisite illustrations by Russian artist Nikita Polyansky. Polyansky received his early training at the world-renowned Bolshoi Theater and the Moscow Art Theater before coming to the United States in 1989. As Polyansky remembers, “I started drawing at age seven, and began going to an art school for kids in Moscow. I studied art for three or four years, mostly academic related arts. I was interested in everything from still life to sculpture. I was doing the basic stuff and drawing everyone and everything around me.
“I began working in the theater when I was 18 or 19 years old. I began by making models for sets. The theater was a family business. My mother was in it, and my grandmother had been an actress. I had some background in the theater before I began working.
“I first came to the United States in 1989. The Moscow Art Theater did an exchange program with the North Carolina School of the Arts. It was invitation only. It was a huge political event, as this was during Perestroika. After that, I was invited to study at the North Carolina School of the Arts, which is where I got my Master’s Degree.
“After North Carolina, I moved to Buffalo, which was a theater town. I was working very hard to survive. It was very complicated after being in school and being attached to my studies. After I graduated, I was suddenly flying free and had the feeling I have to survive now.
“I came to New York City, where I was working for a company responsible for creating the Christmas windows in various department stores like Macy’s. Somehow it came to the point where I was asked to design the windows for Saks Fifth Avenue, and that is where I first met Marta Hallett, the publisher of Glitterati Incorporated. She was responsible for making a book based on The Sleeping Beauty, and I was asked to illustrate the book. We made the book and designed the windows based on the story of a young girl who wanted to be a ballerina.”
The Sleeping Beauty, which was originally released as a book, notecards, and a three-CD set of the Tschaikovsky score, was the first project published by Glitterati Incorporated. The book has become one of the company’s most beloved children’s books, and is newly available in a second printing of the book. Polyansky’s illustrations set the book apart from all others, adding an authentic Russian aesthetic and understanding of the theatrical world to the telling of the book. As Polyansky observes, “When there is just a touch of chic, I like it. It is a little twist at the end.”