Aurora’s Act I solo in "The Sleeping Beauty" captures the young princess’ girlish exuberance. But from a technical standpoint, its four long minutes almost feel like multiple variations. New York City Ballet principal Sterling Hyltin discusses how to master its many moods and tempos.
1: Calm down
In most productions, Aurora’s solo follows the Rose Adagio—one of the most stressful moments in classical ballet. Don’t let the residual adrenaline throw you off. “It’s helpful that the beginning of the variation is slow and controlled,” Hyltin says. “I use the first series of balances in arabesque to pull myself together. You can also channel the energy left over from the Rose Adagio—it can help you project the young Aurora’s spirit and eagerness.
2: Become a part of the onstage world
The variation is easier to get through if you interact with the other dancers onstage. “I like to distract myself by thinking about the fact that I’m socializing at my birthday party,” Hyltin says. “In theory, the solo is all about Aurora, but I try to make it all about everyone else. You’re surrounded by suitors, and they’re all playing out their own little story arcs. Recognize each of them, and feed off their energy.”
3: Allow the music to support you
Creating a dialogue with Tchaikovsky’s score is especially helpful during the opening arabesques. “You can play with either the ascent or the descent of each arabesque,” Hyltin says. “When you’re really on your leg, you can alter your phrasing a little to stretch out that moment on pointe. When things don’t work out so well, you can luxuriate in the tombé afterward.”
4: Let the upper body tell the story
Without effective port de bras, the series of hops on pointe on the diagonal can feel overlong. “The footwork there is very simple, so a lot of that moment is about your upper body,” Hyltin says. Try gesturing to each of your suitors in turn, or raising first one arm, then the other arm, and finally both to fifth. “Every movement should be elegant and regal, acknowledging your subjects. You want to show that Aurora will be a wonderful queen someday.”
5: Stay on top of the manège
The variation concludes with a challenging manège of rapid coupés jetés and piqué turns, an expression of unbridled joy and energy—which can feel like a shock after the leisurely pace of the preceding sections. “Don’t let yourself get behind the music!” Hyltin says. “It’s hard because you’re exhausted, but if you’re trying to catch up going into that last piqué sequence, you’ll get way too dizzy. Try to stay slightly ahead of the beat in the coupés jetés.” And when you’re done, take a deep breath. “After this solo, you almost feel like you’re finished with the whole ballet,” Hyltin says, laughing. “Some of the hardest parts are right up front. Let yourself relax and enjoy the rest.”