Premiered Feb. 11, 1937, for the Philadelphia Forum, Academy of Music, Philadelphia. Music by Peter Tchaikovsky. Scenery by Jarin Scenic Studios. Costumes by Lee Gainsborough.
Catherine’s original production marked the first full-length, full-scale performance of this grand classic in the U.S.* Dazzling in its proportions, the ballet required 100 dancers and 85 musicians. Philip Leidy donated $10,000 to the undertaking, subsidizing European fabrics and furs for the costumes, eight live hounds in the hunting scene and a specially commissioned giant web for the prince to climb through. Catherine’s affection and respect for her teacher Lubov Egorova, who danced the role of Aurora in Diaghilev’s ill-fated 1921 Sleeping Beauty revival, prompted her to mount the challenging work. In a tribute to Egorova, Catherine left intact the original Petipa steps for the grand pas de deux in the final act. She choreographed the rest (three hours’ worth) herself. The ballet was retired after six performances, owing to its enormous demands, but Catherine’s successful tackling of the masterpiece when her company was a mere 16 months old signaled her seriousness of purpose and credibility. The Philadelphia Ballet continued to perform an excerpted third act, called Aurora’s Wedding, until the company disbanded.
*Mikhail Mordkin’s Rehearsal Group presented a full-length version under the auspices of the Waterbury Junior League in December 1936 but his staging has been described as “semi-professional” and the music was supplied by two pianos rather than a full orchestra.