Balanchine was captured by The Sleeping Beauty’s spell at an early age. The ballet marked his first appearance on stage, as Cupid, and he always credited the experience with opening his mind to the possibilities inherent in classical dance. Balanchine’s memories and strong belief in the importance of the performance tradition for young people is perhaps nowhere better demonstrated than in his recreation of The Sleeping Beauty’s Garland Dance, the “Pas de Guirlandes,” for New York City Ballet’s 1981 Tschaikovsky Festival. Here, sixteen couples dance, each holding aloft a garland of flowers in the form of an arch. A chain of little girls enters, weaving under the garlands, and is joined by nine older girls. For New York City Ballet’s 1991 production of The Sleeping Beauty, choreographer Peter Martins incorporated Balanchine’s Garland Dance in Act I.
Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky (1840-1893) studied at the Conservatory in St. Petersburg, where Balanchine later studied piano in addition to his studies in dance. Tschaikovsky is one of the most popular and influential of all romantic composers. His work is expressive, melodic, and grand in scale, with rich orchestrations. His output was prodigious and included chamber works, symphonies, concerti for various instruments, operas, and works for the piano. His creations for the ballet, composed in close partnership with Marius Petipa, include Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and The Sleeping Beauty.