Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ballet at the Benedum

My experience with ballet began when my daughter was a fourth grade ballerina at the Sue Richard Dance Studio. For the past three years, we have shared our love for dance by attending an annual ballet at The Benedum Theater in Pittsburgh.

My first professional ballet was La Bayadere, The Temple Dancer. Next came Le Corsaire, The Pirate. This year on February 11th, we saw Alice In Wonderland, the White Rabbit following girl, who enters a world of magic and mayhem.

While attending La Bayadere, I would not have been able to define "arabesque" or "port de bras", but
my heart knew something special was happening when I witnessed the visually stunning and rhythmic tapping of the toe shoes in the scene called "The Kingdom of the Shades." I was
mesmerized by the stability and precision of the dancers. It was only recently that I learned that Mikhail Baryshnikov considered this ballet to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest classical works in the history of ballet. It helps to read the synopsis of each ballet before seeing the performance. However, in The Kingdom of the Shades scene, one does not have to know that the hero Solor smoked opium to blur the painful edge of the loss of his murdered love. Or know that she, along with the other temple dancers, is coming to him in a vision as she descends from the heights of the Himalayas to the depths of his sorrow. All one has to do is see and listen with one's heart. To this day, three years later, I can still visualize those beautiful, athletic ballerinas descending their mountain.

Le Corsaire had a different, international dance flavor. The opening scene takes place in a bazaar populated with Turks, Greeks and Armenians. This ballet followed the love affair of Medora, the ward of an unscrupulous bazaar owner and Conrad, the pirate. It involved kidnappings and re-kidnappings and a third kidnapping, all in the name of love. It contains an enchanting Pas de Deux. This time I was able to guess the meaning of a Pas de Deux. What I did not realize at the time was that this was among classical ballet's most famous and performed excerpts. I'm so grateful that I have access to unlimited instant replays as I close my eyes and hear the musical memories and see the beauty of dance in my mind. It was fun to learn that humor in the plot and audible laughter in the audience is permissible and appreciated. This ballet had it all, drama, love, humor and most of all, such talented dancers.

For our third ballet, Alice in Wonderland, the costumes, set designs, choreography, and cast of characters became "curiouser and curiouser." Sort of like Tchaikovsky collaborated with Lewis Carroll producing classical nut cases. But, oh what fun it was to see.

I was smiling as broadly as The Cheshire Cat as I was danced into the fantasy world of furniture on steroids, growing and shrinking to change our perspective of Alice's size. I marveled at the dancing doors, and wondered how that was engineered. My favorite scene was the Tea Party. A floating teapot the size of a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon, poured out a "chunk" of tea causing the audience to erupt in laughter.

I'm hoping no animals were harmed in the making of this zany ballet. Silly me, I was confused at first thinking the pipe smoking caterpillar entering on a huge mushroom was actually the Mock Turtle. The smoke in my head cleared, and I was soon able to correctly identify the Frog Footman, Fish Footman, Mad Hatter, 4 lobsters, monkey, crab and Gryphon, the lion/eagle creature.

The plot thickened as we encountered The Garden of Living Flowers, the aforementioned animals swimming in a pool of tears, the Queen's Croquet Match, a baby tossed around like a pizza in the making and The Queen of Hearts involved in a trial based on some stolen tarts.

So in conclusion, some ballet trivia. Little girls often come to ballets dressed as their favorite character. Recently, I saw many adorable Alices. Big girls, read my daughter, came dressed in an adorable pink tulle knee length skirt and killer heels. Audiences are respectful and appreciative. Our seats in all three ballets have been spectacular. Having a live orchestra adds another dimension to the whole experience. There seems to be a thread of smoke weaving among the ballets, whether it's opium induced stupors or kidnapping enabled by drugs or who knows what that pipe smoking caterpillar/turtle stuffed into his pipe.

And to those readers who claim not to enjoy ballet, Lewis Carroll and I both say, "Off with their heads!"

See you next year at Swan Lake.

Sandra Warholic Seeley is the creator and author of Kanela's Korner and The Sandra Seeley Column. She is a lifelong educator whose teaching experience ranges from suburban Bethel Park, PA to Hawaii to urban Pittsburgh Public's Homewood, Hill District and Squirrel Hill communities. She has taught in every grade level from Kindergarten through Grade 5. She has a Master's Degree in Education from The University of Pittsburgh with a minor in English. Her passion has always been the teaching of Communications: Reading and Writer's Workshop. She is now a freelance writer. To contact the author, click the following link.

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