Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cake or Death at the Ballet

I was excited!

So excited!

I’d never seen Swan Lake before. This was the next best thing to an adventure!

Going to a theater (a real one with a real stage! Not for movies!) and watching a show performed by live and actual people… why I almost never do that!

Mandi and I had been planning it for weeks, since neither of our husbands was interested. The two of us, just a pair of girls out on the town, were all smiles as we picked up our tickets from the will-call window and started through the crowd of theater-goers and toward the stairs.

“The balcony seats were like $50 cheaper than the next level down,” Mandi explained as we headed up.

“I’m all for cheaper,” I said, because I workout every day and can handle a few stairs.

Which is great, because there were more stairs, packed end to end with other people who like cheap seats. Pausing on a landing to catch my breath, I saw two older ladies by a door, one an usher holding a stack of programs, the other a patron.

“Do these chairs lean back?” the patron was asking, loudly. “My hips get stiff if I sit up too long. Maybe there’s a place I could watch standing up?”

I stood obviously off to the side and held out my hand, but the usher, speaking just as loudly, addressed the patron as if she hadn’t seen me. “You can’t stand up during the show.”

I cleared my throat politely but the old ladies, both quite deaf, ignored me. Looking around for Mandi, I noticed her halfway up the next flight of stairs, having missed the entire exchange, and hurried after her.

When we were finally seated, three rows from the highest seats possible, Mandi said, “Where’d everyone get programs?”

“Outside and downstairs,” I told her. “You want to go get one?”

I saw her look toward the door, considering. We were far from the end, having climbed over several people in the narrow row to reach our seats. “Nah, we’ll be fine.”

I agreed. In my experience, I only look at the program once and then never again, except for maybe when I get around to scrapbooking it in the scrapbook I never look at again. Besides, I thought, I know the story already. I saw plenty of cartoons of it as a child.

When the lights went down and the curtain went up, I was fascinated. The colors! The costumes! The music! It was only after several minutes I realized I was totally lost. What the heck is going on here? I wondered. I think we’re at a dancing party… Like it might be this guy’s birthday, because he just got a present. People are applauding, so he must be the prince. I surveyed the scene before me, trying to determine who these voiceless characters were. Where the heck are the swans?

“I’m lost,” I admitted to Mandi in a frantic whisper. “Are you lost?”

“I am so lost,” she replied.

Somewhere, another patron shushed us.

The swans, just so you know, showed up in act two, but did nothing to alleviate my confusion. We went from a party to some swans? How does that work? I gave up on following the story and decided to enjoy the visuals.

Though I’d never seen the ballet, I’ve always enjoyed the music of Swan Lake. From a cheesy “childlike wonder” perspective, for example, it was great to see the music from one of my favorite music boxes come to life on stage. I especially enjoyed the scenery for the lake in act two, which seemed, were it a real lake, like it would have been a nice place to visit.

The ladies’ costumes were gorgeous as well, though I honestly couldn’t tell you about the men’s since my eyes never rose above their tights, a fact which Mandi and I both remarked on in more whispers despite the shushing and glares of those seated near us.

And so it went until intermission, when I whipped out my phone to consult the internet. “I really thought I knew this story already,” I said.

“So did I,” Mandi admitted.

I checked the plot on Wikipedia.

At the prince’s birthday party (yes, okay, that makes sense), his mother the queen (so far so good) gives him a fine crossbow as a present (I’m with you now) and encourages him to find a wife among the girls who are visiting for the celebration (it’s so clear to me now). The prince is disappointed he can’t marry for love.

Later (aka act two), the prince and his friends take his new crossbow out for a spin (that makes so much more sense) but he gets lost at the lake and he meets the magical swans, who are people at night (were-swans?) because of a sorcerer’s curse, and he falls in love with their queen.

“Okay, I think I’ve got this now,” I said. Mandi, reading over my shoulder, nodded.

We scrolled ahead to see what happens next: There’s a lot of drama, with mistaken identities and sorcery and such, but to make a long story short, at the end, to defy the evil sorcerer, the prince and the swan queen leap into the lake together to their deaths.

“They die?” I said.

“What?” said Mandi.

“We sit here for two hours then they die?” It was like an episode of Game of Thrones, only twice as long.

“What?” Mandi repeated.

We huddled around my phone’s tiny screen, reading it again. The plot did not change.

“Screw this!” I declared. “This calls for cake! On the way home, we stop for cake!”

“Agreed! Death calls for cake!”

We fumed in our seats until the lights lowered for act three.

I watched as the prince danced with the evil sorcerer’s daughter who was disguised as the swan queen, even though she was obviously a villain because she was wearing black, and the saddened swan queen went away to die in despair.

That’s right, Bella, I thought. Edward left you. Go cry in a corner.

But in act four, the prince followed her. Silently and with much dancing, he declared his love for the swan queen, and they danced some more. The evil sorcerer appeared and (dancingly) confronted them, but they (dancingly) confronted him right back.

Then, having apparently failed to bring it and losing the dance off, the sorcerer collapsed to the floor, dead. The happy couple embraced.

The curtain fell.

“What just happened?” I said.

The curtain went back up so the dancers, including the dead sorcerer, could parade across the stage to take their bows. The show was well and truly over.

I blinked against the raised lights and my own confusion as the people around me filed out the door. “Wait… did they just live at the end?” I asked Mandi.

“It didn’t look like they died to me,” she said.

“Yeah, it looked like they defeated the sorcerer and lived happily ever after,” I said, glad it wasn’t just me.

“So…” said Mandi. “Hooray?”

“Hooray for happy endings!” I agreed. I sat in my chair a moment longer, looking down at the stage and its red curtain.

Then I said, “This calls for cake!”

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