The premiere of the ballet was on January 15, 1890, at the Maryinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, and was performed by the Milanese virtuoso Carlotta Brianza as Aurora, Marie Petipa as the Lilac Fairy, Pavel Gerdt as Prince Désiré, and the great Enrico Cecchetti as both the evil fairy Carabosse and the Bluebird. By 1903 Sleeping Beauty was the second most popular ballet in the repertory of the Imperial Ballet having been performed 200 times in only 10 years. 30 years later it was Diaghilev's Ballets Russes that brought The Sleeping Beauty to the West. In 1921 his company was without a choreographer, and he decided to show his European audiences something of the splendour of the Imperial Ballet. The Sleeping Beauty, renamed The Sleeping Princess, was thus staged by Nicolai Sergeyev, who had been regisseur at the Maryinsky from 1904-1917.
The production of The Sleeping Princess was to have a much further reaching result than Diaghilev ever imagined. It was a success, but not in the usual Diaghilev manner. No one who saw those performances would ever think the same way about dancing again. Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet, had been a soloist in the Diaghilev company. She had left Diaghilev in 1926 to form her own academy. In 1939 her English company, the Vic-Wells (later Sadler's Wells and then The Royal Ballet), mounted a two-act production of "The Spell" and "The Wedding," which featured a 19-year-old Aurora named Margot Fonteyn. After World War II Sadler's Wells offered a new, full-length production of The Sleeping Beauty that closely adhered to the 1890 Petipa version. Mounted by Sergeyev, Diaghilev's ballet master, at Covent Garden, with additional choreography by Frederick Ashton and de Valois, it had costumes and scenery by Oliver Messel. It was this version of the ballet that was presented in New York in 1949, proved to be a triumph for Fonteyn in the title role. The Sleeping Beauty was the first ballet Anna Pavlova saw, when she was eight years old, and it inspired her to become a dancer. Similarly, the first time George Balanchine appeared on stage was as a cupid in The Sleeping Beauty. He was a small boy and a pupil at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg.