Maki Onuki and Ariel Martinez perform in the Washington Ballet's Sleeping Beauty
Credit: Spencer Bently

The very first Sleeping Beauty ballet premiered in 1890 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was one of the most extravagant, expensive ballets of the time and today, it’s one of the most popular ballets, but back then, critics pooh-poohed it. The scene was too extravagant, the costumes too garish, the music not danceable, and the story “too French,” as historian Tim Scholl explained in his 2019 talk at the Wilson Center, “Restaging Russian Classics: In Search of Sleeping Beauty.” But a generation of young Russian dancers, from Anna Pavlova to Sergei Diaghilev, treasured the ballet and its grandiosity. These luminaries carried Sleeping Beauty westward to London and Philadelphia, Milan and San Francisco. This spring the Washington Ballet will present its own interpretation. The outgoing artistic leadership team of Julie Kent and Victor Barbee partnered with dance historian Dr. Natalie Rouland to develop the choreography, designed to both reflect and reimagine that original Mariinsky performance. The Washington Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty runs May 4 through 7 at the Kennedy Center. $25–150.