Petal power: Flowery moments in ballet
From The Sleeping Beauty to La Fille mal gardée, a celebration of all things floral.
It’s silly season and the sun is out. Time to celebrate the time of year, before we plunge back into the winter months. Here’s a last hurrah to the power of perfume, blossom and bud with a bouquet of ‘flowery moments’ from recent and upcoming ballet rep. And, why not some floral folly? Didn’t Covent Garden used to be a flower market? We’re back to our roots…
Aurora’s Rose adagio in The Sleeping Beauty is one of the most famous flower sequences of classical ballet. The young princess dances at her 16th-birthday party taking a rose from each of her suitors. Roses are ancient symbols of love and beauty – the two qualities that Aurora embodies. It is the Lilac fairy who comes to Aurora’s aid when she is bewitched by the wicked fairy Carabosse. Lilac is one of the first blooms of spring, and symbolic, especially in cold Russia from whence the ballet originates, of the thrill of new life after winter – redolent with allegory in this ballet.
In Giselle, the most Romantic of ballets, the natural world is contrasted with the supernatural. The flowers are pure white. First, there’s a daisy that Giselle plucks to determine her lover’s intentions (he loves me, he loves me not…). She feels a shudder of dread as she gets to the last petal, but Albrecht tricks her that she’s miscounted. She later repeats this gesture in the throes of madness. Daisies are associated with innocence and loyal love (qualities that are fatal for Giselle). After her death, a remorseful Albrecht lays lilies on her grave. These solemn white flowers symbolize chastity and virtue and are still the flowers most often associated with funerals, traditionally implying that the soul of the departed will be restored to innocence after death.
Myrtha, the queen of the Wilis, uses an evergreen branch (variously identified as myrtle, or mistletoe or willow) to command her ghostly troupe. The evergreen is symbolic of the dark months of winter and also the everlasting union of marriage, hence its use by Myrtha for her jilted brides. But Myrtha’s wand shatters when she is confronted by the superior power of the cross on Giselle’s grave (a fiddly trick to pull off on stage).
More flowery moments:
- In the La Bayadère the beautiful temple dancer Nikiya is killed by snake hidden in a basket of flowers.
- The lady with flowery hat in the Alaska Rag in Elite Syncopations – her elegant headgear wins audiences’ hearts: pink crin ribbon with multi-coloured fabric flowers by Ian Spurling (pictured above).
- Colas’s chintz taffeta waistcoat in La Fille mal gardée designed by Sir Osbert Lancaster (pictured above), a floral feast for the eyes. Bloomtastic!
- Frederick Ashton’s A wedding bouquet
- Antony Tudor’s Jardin au lilas
- Waltz of the Flowers in The Nutcracker, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice also receives a red rose from the garden boy – setting off a whole chain of events in Wonderland
- Michel Fokine’s Le spectre de la rose
- Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows.