Last week, I read an article by Joan Acocella in the New Yorker about Alexei Ratmansky, the artist-in-residence at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), and it made me want to:
1. Become a Romanov and time travel back to Russia at the end of the 19th century so that I could go watch an original performance of a Tschaikovsky ballet in a royal box, wearing a tiara.
2. Go see a performance by the ABT, currently in season, at Lincoln Center.
So I called Grumpy, who is the only straight man I know who loves the ballet, and said to him: “Buy us some tickets to the ballet, bitch.”
Then he said to me: “Yo girl, why you tripping, I be busy and shit.”
Then I said: “You didn’t actually say that, Grumpy. I made it up!”
And he: “Brie, I don’t have a lot of patience for this. What do you want?”
And I: “I would like for you to accompany me to the ballet.”
He grumbled and sighed. Through the line, I could hear him smile a bit.
“Fine,” he said.
And that’s how we ended at the ABT’s performance of The Sleeping Beauty last Friday night at Lincoln Center.
We decided to have dinner before, rather than after the performance, as by 10pm, I perfer to be either three sheets to the wind, or in bed watching the British version of Skins.
Grumpy had taken care of all of the arrangements for the performance, so he asked me to make reservations for dinner.
Bar Boloud? I emailed him Friday morning. That’s my favorite restaurant in the Lincoln Center complex besides the Godiva stand at the cash register in Barnes & Noble.
You know I don’t care where we eat, he emailed me back. And then, I can only imagine, he made a grumpy face.
So I made a reservation at the first Boloud that appeared on Open Table. At 5:30pm, I disembarked from the subway on 57th street in the midst of a thunderstorm, and proceeded to tiptoe my way up Broadway, hopping from side to side, in an attempt not to ruin my shoes. Moving in such a way, the walk to 63rd street took me 25 minutes.
When I got to the restaurant, I realized I had fucked up. Rather than booking a table at the fairly casual Bar Boloud, I had reserved a space at it’s much fancier father restaurant, Café Boloud, on the Upper East Side.
I could have cancelled that reservation, but it would have cost me $75 a person.
“Fuck!” I said to my now soaking feet. “That shit is on my credit card!” So I hopped in a cab in my maxi dress, my braided hair settled in clumps around my shoulders, and headed across town, my bodega umbrella dripping a puddle on the seat beside me.
I arrived at the restaurant first, and bounced inside. “Hello there, I am Brie,” I said to the maitre d’, beaming. “I’d like one champagne cocktail please, and the foie gras.”
If one is going to eat in one of the fanciest restaurants in town, one might as well go for the most expensive items on the menu. One is me.
“We don’t serve alcohol to minors,” he said, and then he led me to my table.
I won’t go into the details of my meal, but I will say that the champagne cocktail had a sugar cube in it, and my rabbit ragu came out lukewarm. Grumpy drank a bottle of red wine. I had a chocolate parfait for desert, and at the end of the meal, I pointed my nose up in the air and let my pigtails trail behind me as I floated out the door.
All the while, Grumpy was sighing and shaking his head.
We arrived to find the stairs of the Metropolitan Opera House flooded with people. From inside the building, the gracious, red-carpeted stairs warmed the chandeliers, which hung low over the heads of all of the wanna-be ballerinas, gay men, and elderly people who traipsed (or laboriously climbed) up to their seats in the bowels of the theater. High in the second story, behind the windows, the two Kandinsky murals, flush with color, hung like guards.
“I think that I’m going to cry at the beauty of it,” I said to Grumpy. And then I clapped my heads in front of my face, hopped six inches in the air, and glided towards the front door. Grumpy’s face, for the first time all evening, shifted into the semblance of a smile.
A few minutes later, we were settled in the back of the mezzanine, breathing in gold and velvet. I put on my stupid fucking hipster glasses, and moved my eyes to follow the Lobmeyr chandeliers as they drifted in the dimming light towards the Kandinsky mural in the dome of the ceiling.
The orchestra began it’s Tchaikovsky overture, and I was flooded with joy. On my left side, Grumpy began to reek of something unfamiliar. It smelled strangely of happiness.
The ballet began in a splendor of color. The king and queen greeted their audience, and drifted to the side to let the rainbow fairies do their little welcome dance for Aurora, the infant princess who would later become the Sleeping Beauty.
It was enchanting. It made me nostalgic. For a second, I felt like I was at the end of my mother’s bed on a Friday night, where I used to watch performances of the ballet on PBS while I gave her foot massages. That memory’s a little weird.
Grumpy giggled and sighed through the whole thing with me. At one point, the yellow fairy was doing a silly little dance, with her fingers fluttering across her face, and he whispered, “That’s exactly like you,” and he whispered it very fondly.
Any respectable girl knows the story of Sleeping Beauty. She is born, and at her welcoming ceremony, her parents offend Helena Bonham Carter, who curses the princess to an early death via poisonous spindle.
The lilac fairy comes to the rescue, and bestows a blessing that says that the princess will not die. Rather, she will sleep for 100 years.
On her 16th birthday, despite the best efforts of her parents, Sleeping Beauty (the dolt) finds the spindle, and pricks it with her finger. Thus she, along with the rest of her loyal subjects, falls into a deep slumber.
A team of outlaws comes, ravages the women, takes all of the spoils, kills the men, and then leaves the castle a cesspool. That actually doesn’t happen in fairy tales, but in fantasy novels, shit would have gotten crazy like that.
After 100 years, a handsome prince pushes through a tangle of briar roses littered with the bones of past suitors, enters the castle, kisses the Sleeping Beauty, and brings her back to life. Then they get married, and live happily ever after.
On their wedding night, she is unable to remove his white leggings, so they remain childless forever. The only thing that comforts her is the fact that if he were to remove them, he would have a fairly large penis. And thus, another fairy tale is born.
Tchaikovsky’s ballet is a variation on the original story, which was can be traced to the 17th century. The Sleeping Beauty who dances to his score courts men not only with her beauty, but also with her ability to stand, perfectly balanced, on one toe.
Watching the ballerina who played her tremble, steady herself on the hand of a suitor, and then lift up her hand to stand on her own, one foot curved behind her in an arc, again and again and again and again, was the most exhilarating thing I’ve seen in years.
Tchaikovsky’s original ballet premiered in Saint Petersburg in 1890. You may think that you know nothing about it, but Disney used the exact same score in their own classic animated version of the story in 1959. The only things they added were talking animals, a gaseous horse, and a tree house populated by singing owls.
That “love call” Sleeping Beauty makes to her Prince Charming as she wanders through the Technicolor forest, is taken directly from the second act of the ballet. It is the foundation of all of my romantic yearnings.
Is it just me, or is Sleeping Beauty the absolutely most beautiful girl you’ve ever seen? Oh no, it’s not just me, it’s my EVIL CONDITIONING.
I know I’m supposed to think that fairy tales are bad for women, and that they give us unrealistic expectations about beauty and life.
But in some ways, they feel strangely empowering, populated as they are by empty shells of men, notable only for their looks and their money, and girls who are not only beautiful, but unique and precious and strange, imbued with magic, capable of inspiring ultimate devotion.
In Tschaikovsky’s ballet, such girls dominate the stage. The men jump high in the air, and flex their big strong leg muscles, but they’re not arresting. The girls, on the other hand, can shimmer. They can float. They can create rhythms with the wooden blocks at the tips of their feet.
Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty performs breathtaking, impossible feats. She is the center of everything that revolves around her. She shines at every occasion, even in her weakest moments.
She’s a phoenix, rising from the ashes.
Oh my god, I just quoted an Ani DiFranco song.
What kind of message am I sending to the children?
I was devastated when the ballet ended. Grumpy and I lingered for a while in the eaves, until the curtain finally closed, and the chandeliers began to descend from the ceiling. We walked slowly down the shallow stairs, to the entrance.
“Thank you so much, Grumpy,” I said to him when we got outside, and then I squeezed his arm warmly. He’s not for me romantically, but he’s a Prince Charming of sorts.
A Southern gentleman who really is looking for a girl to love. Occasionally, he uses me to train himself for the right woman.
He’s one of my oldest friends in New York.
“I had a great night,” he said softly, as to not break the spell of our contentment.
Then we walked side by side to the subway, and I left him on the rain soaked curb, in the blinking puddles. The whole way home, I called to my Prince Charming in the language of Tschaikovsky, in a low hum that echoed best when I disembarked from the subway in Brooklyn, into the empty bowels of the station, alone for the remainder of the evening.