We live in interesting times. If there ever was a time of fast-paced progress and equally extreme desire to recreate some sort of status quo it seems like this is that time. (No doubt the industrial revolution had a similar vibe in some ways.) I have the job of raising two children in these times and for the most part it is wonderful. It is a time when we have to check our perspectives all the time, and having been raised to question just about everything, that works for me. It’s not an easy way to go about life, but it is an exciting and interesting way.
What does all this have to do with Sleeping Beauty? When it comes to fairy tales, despite the fact that my children haven’t seen many (if any) of the movies, Disney is the version most children seem to know best. What the kids do know, from trailers on tv and at the movie theatre are the newer Disney stories. The other day, my son who is all about the “isms” at this moment (and I hope for the rest of his life), asked me why all the Disney movies have girls as their main heroine. How’s that for a change of perspective? Henry is always pointing out sexism, racism, classism (although he doesn’t us that word), and anything unjust or hypocritical that he notices. He doesn’t know a time when boys ruled the world (although they still have a pretty strong clutch on that). He is growing up in a time of girls ruling the world at least in the media and much of messages in popular culture.
So in this context of life today, why go see Boston Ballet’s performance of Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty? Isn’t it the same old fairy tale of a princess that needs to be rescued by a prince? Yes it is, but the world is full of princesses (of any gender) that want to be rescued by a prince (of any gender). The world is also full of little children who imagine themselves as the vengeful old fairy, Carabosse, who is preceded by thunder and lightening wherever she goes. Others see themselves as the sweet, kind-hearted Lilac Fairy who elegantly goes about her business putting out the fires that others created and making everything better. I remember as a child at recess, we used to play a game that had an evil witch and my goal every recess was to be the person that was killed by the witch. I didn’t want to be the princess or the evil queen I just wanted a dramatic death.
The thing is, the story of Sleeping Beauty is just one part of going to see Boston Ballet’s performance. Watching the stage transform, takes you back in history. The history of a ballet is fascinating and exists on a few levels The movement is passed down century after century from teacher to student, from ballet master to prima ballerina. Much like learning martial arts, or training as a classical French chef. This straight line through history is pretty special and you see it come to life on stage. The past is an important part of our future. The character dances or folk dances in the ballet take you back through time and we all have dances in our cultures that come from history. Experiencing history and culture in this way with your family is a great way to connect the dots in your own family’s history and culture.
In addition to the history, there is the pure grace and athleticism. Whether you watched the marathon, you tune into American Ninja Warrior, or you go to the Patriots games, you appreciate the moments when you can’t quite believe that the human body just accomplished x, y or z. The only difference in ballet is that the dancer accomplishes amazing physical feats and has also learned to make it look like it took no effort at all.
Then, there is everything that goes with ballet: the pointe shoes, the tutus, the gorgeous elaborate costumes, the children performing on such a “grown up” and exquisite setting alongside stars in their field, there is the lighting, the Opera House glitz and glamour, the entire orchestra, and the principal dancers themselves as human and super-human beings. Children and adults alike have so much to take in that the ballet becomes more than just the story. It is the story and the art form and the experience and the setting and the energy of the audience that you take in. The story of course is powerful and will draw you in if the dancers are doing their job well. Lia Cirio as Aurora, Kathleen Breen Combes as Carabosse, Rie Ichikawa and John Lam as Princess Florine and Blue Bird, Diana Albrecht and Paul Craig as The White Cat and Puss ‘n Boots, Brett Fukuda and Boris Richir as Red Riding Hood and The Wolf along with the rest of the 60 plus cast members captivated the entire opera house throughout the performance. Story ballets like Sleeping Beauty have so much pantomime that the audience is quickly able to match motions to their meaning. This new way of experiencing a story allows children to tap into different parts of a story. There is always more than one story line whereas in a book there are the words and the still pictures.
With live performance there is also the risk of the occasional little blip, snafu or prop malfunction and for children to see that too is empowering. In an arena that lives in the world of perfection, there will still always be imperfection. Children are constantly working to please their parents, their teachers, themselves and seeing that mistakes are made and yet the show must go on is a valuable lesson. Watching a dropped prop be picked up or a stumble be caught and then a dancer continuing on is much more powerful than being told “mistakes are human”, “mistakes happen”, or “nothing is perfect”. Can you tell we have a little bit of perfectionism issues in our family? If your family is on the opposite end of the spectrum then you can also focus on: “look what you can do with some hard work” because when it comes down to it 99.9% of the time these dancers are perfect and the props look amazing and the lighting is magical and it all took hours and hours and hours and hours of training and practice.
So, is Sleeping Beauty still just a story about a princess waiting to be saved by a prince? Perhaps, but if you’re only looking that deep I think you’re missing out on a whole lot of other juicy stuff.
Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty by Boston Ballet runs until May 27th. All performances of The Sleeping Beauty take place at the Boston Opera House (539 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111). Remaining performances are
- Thursday, May 4 at 7:30 pm
- Saturday, May 6 at 1 pm
- Sunday, May 7 at 1 pm*
- Friday, May 12 at 7:30 pm
- Saturday, May 13 at 1 pm
- Friday, May 19 at 7:30 pm
- Saturday, May 20 at 1 pm
- Saturday, May 20 at 7:30 pm
- Thursday, May 25 at 7:30 pm
- Saturday, May 27 at 1 pm
*Post-show talk with Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen and artists