Ravel originally composed Ma Mère L’Oye in 1908 as a suite of five pieces for four-hand piano. He later orchestrated and adapted the suite into ballet form by adding a prelude, an opening scene, and four interludes connecting the numbers. Ravel’s idea of “conjuring up the poetry of childhood” comes across clearly both in the simple tenderness inherent in the music, and in the delightful scenario that he created, which Robbins uses for his ballet. Robbins added the overarching idea of a group of dancers, resting backstage, who use bits of costumes and various props to enact the stories.
Princess Florine is celebrating her birthday. During the festivities she accidentaly pricks her finger on a spindle. According to the curse of the Bad Fairy, she now must die. But through the intervention of the Good Fairy, her death is altered into a sleep of one hundred yearas, from which she will be awakened only by the kiss of someone who loves her.
To entertain Princess Florine during her long sleep, the Good Fairy decides to provide her with dreams of fairy tales.
The first is Beauty and the Beast, in which Beauty breaks the evil enchantment which has changed a prince into a beast by accepting his love.
The next is Hop o’ My Thumb. An impoverished woodcutter has purposely lost his seven little sons in the forest. Hop o’ My Thumb, the youngest, leaves a trail of crumbs to lead them back home.
The final fairy tale is Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas. Cursed by a demon, Laideronnette has been changed into the ugliest woman in the world. Similarly, her paramour, once a handsome young man, has been transformed into a green serpent. After bathing in waters that have secret magical powers, the two are restored to their former selves, and all celebrate.
The dreams of the Princess are interrupted by the arrival of Prince Charming, led by Cupid. The Prince breaks the spell, and he is happily married to the Princess in the presence of the joyful court and the dream figures.