Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Night at the Ballet

* * * Twins are doing really great.  Mike the Cow, not so much * * *

A Night at the Ballet

“How is your daughter handling this?” I am often asked.

Great, I say.  I reply that she’s at the perfect age, old enough that we can explain [some] things to her, but not old enough to be worried.  For all she knows, it’s perfectly normal to have a baby and leave him at the hospital.  And for all we know, it’s perfectly normal for all her dolls to be sick and need medical attention.  This morning she was lining them up for vaccines.

“And how did she do with you in the hospital for so long?” (I was in Ante-partum for eight days before the twins were born and in post-partum for five).

She did great.  Just great.  Don’t all three year olds scream, “DON’T LEAVE ME, MAMA!!!” when their mommies go take a shower?

But just in case, I thought we’d have a little mother-daughter time.  We went to see the ballet, Coppelia last Friday night.

“It’s like a night adventure, Mama!”  “Adventures” are what we do on non-daycare days.  Some people run errands.  We have “adventures.”

Coppelia is a full-length ballet from the late 19th century.  Like Giselle, it’s one of those “My man done me wrong” ballets.  You know, boy and girl are engaged.  Boy falls for someone else.  Girl gets upset.  In Giselle, the other woman is a rich aristocrat.  Girl goes crazy and dies.  Boy is wracked with guilt and tormented for all eternity by a herd of undead jilted ladies.  I’m not kidding.  In Coppelia, the other woman is a doll.  So Girl triumphs, Boy feels dumb that he fell for a doll.  They get married and she probably holds it over his head for the rest of his natural born life.

Coppelia does have an additional creep factor—Dr. Coppelius, the eccentric old maker of life size dolls, has been studying magic in hopes that he can bring his doll, Coppelia, to life.  When Boy (“Franz”) sneaks into the toy factory to make overtures to this hot doll, Dr. C gets him drunk and tries to steal his life essence for his doll.   “Swanhilda,” the Girl (again, not kidding) is dressed in the doll’s clothing (oh!  What would 19th century comedy be without the ol’ dress up in someone else’s clothes bit), and pretends to come to life.  Franz sobers up and Swanhilda says, “Ha!  I tricked both y’all!”  To which Franz says, “Oh, you!  I guess we might as well get married, then,” all in ballet pantomime, of course.  Then Dr. C. crumples to the floor, broken hearted.  

I thought it would be a good ballet to see because I thought I could explain the story to Chiara.  (Turns out I was wrong; it’s harder than you think.  “See, the girl pretends to be a doll who pretends not to be a doll anymore.”)

She loved it anyway. 

And now we get to the part of the story that makes it blog worthy.  Apologies for sounding trite, but I learned something on Friday night.  Not only is the whole greater than the sum of its parts, but you get to cherry pick your parts and that makes it even better. 

For example, this was not a convenient show to see.  There was one show only: Friday night at 8 p.m. in Marin County, 45 to 60 minutes away when there’s traffic.  On a Friday night before a three-day weekend, there’s traffic.  It was raining to boot.  I knew beforehand that the quality of the dancing would not match the price of the tickets.  Lastly, I have a lot of negative memories associated with performing Coppelia. 

In the end, none of these details mattered.  Chiara and I shared a magical night at the ballet in a way I would have never anticipated.  Here are details that made it memorable.

Chiara insisted on wearing her “fancy dress” (blue velvet with a layer of tulle underneath), her hair in a bun, and sequined Mary Jane’s (thanks to Cousin Maria).  Chiara was by far the smallest audience member and several people commented on her get-up.

“Are you a dancer?” she was asked over and over.

“Sometimes,” she would shyly answer.

I had gotten seats on the far edge of house right, in case we needed to beat a hasty retreat.  In the row in front of us sat a white haired couple.  Judging from her cane and his agility, I think it was a son accompanying his elderly mother to the ballet.  It was hard to say who was more excited, his mother or my daughter.

“We aren’t going to have a sing-along, now, are we?” he preemptively reprimanded her.  She didn’t answer, hands clasped at her chest, watching the curtain in anxious anticipation.

The lights dimmed and the overture played over the loudspeakers.  The old woman’s head bobbled in time with the music and her hand involuntarily waved to and fro as if she was conducting an imaginary orchestra.

The score to Coppelia was composed by Leo Deliebes specifically for ballet.  If this woman knows the music, chances are she danced this ballet.  How beautifully poetic it is.  Here we are, three generations of dancers.  Past, present and future.  Will I one day be like this old woman, escorted by Chiara to a B-list production, with nothing to hint at my past life but knowledge of the music?

The performance was pretty much what I expected it to be: the occasional dancer out of line, a sickled foot here and there but what I will remember is Chiara, sinking into my lap, leaning against me, occasionally whispering, What happens next?

I had planned to leave after the second act (the third act is the wedding—always a bore), but Chiara wouldn’t let me.  “NO!  We have to stay for the next act!”  (How did she know there was another act?).  She bargained with me: “Let’s stay for one more dance.”

So we did.  We stayed for the opening of the third act—the pas de trois—the part I danced in Iceland.  And this is what makes life so extraordinary.  I haven’t heard this music in seventeen years.  But as I listened to it, I felt a surge of joy.  “Wow.”  I thought.  “I must have really enjoyed dancing this.”

It may sound silly, but this was a surprise to me.  Unlike other parts of the ballet that evoked memories of the choreography or the political back story that unfolded behind the scenes (literally!), the music to the pas de trois just brought back blissful feelings of pure joy, one of those moments where you feel that to live life is to soar above it.  And now I was simultaneously remembering, experiencing and sharing that feeling with my daughter. 

We stayed for one more dance, the doll dance (the Russians had taken liberty with the story) after which Chiara whispered, “Now we can go.”

© 2010 Janine Kovac 


  1. What a wonderful mother-daughter evening! Thanks for sharing the story.

  2. BRAVO!

    Aunt Lulu.


  4. What a fabulous night! So glad you get a chance to have these special mother/daughter moments that you can cherish forever! Thanks for sharing:)

  5. To live life is to soar above it. Love love love that.