I was a last-minute substitute companion to the Pacific Northwest Ballet last night. One month it’s roller derby, the next it’s the ballet. Only after this outing I harbored no secret desire to become a ballerina. Joe and I do a good imitation of the hippo and alligator routine from Fantasia, but that’s as close as I’ll ever get. Cartoon hippo dancing. Here’s the night’s recap:
When we take our seats before the performance begins, I warn my friend that I was very nearly kicked out of a ballet once, long ago, or should have been. My now-former mother-in-law had season’s tickets to the PNB and wasn’t able to attend, so I took Hannah…The seats were fantastic, up on the side balcony, with cushy chairs on their own to sit in. The acoustics were also incredible; you could hear every sniffle and throat-clearer in the audience, so that when the dancers did a little cutesy, ass-patting move, we very clearly heard someone expel a loud, shocked, matronly “Tsk!! Huhhhhh.” Our heads simultaneously whipped to face each other and that silent-oh-this-is-so-wrong-so-inappropriate-we’re-totally-gonna-die-if-we-don’t-let-it-out laughter welled up inside us, and we knew we had to leave right away. In our hurry to exit before we became the pariahs of the ballet, we knocked over one of the cushy armchairs, did a quick lunging save before it crashed to the floor, and ran as fast as we could outside the building where we fell about laughing until we cried. Then we went to the (fabulous) Rainbow Tavern and saw Mondo Vita. We were so Twenty-something, it was so the Eighties.
The sparkly red curtain rises to an empty wood-floored stage, the background an expanse of blue, lightly clouded sky. The audience hushes to complete silence as a male ballet dancer slowly steps, knees lifting high, toes pointed, calves taut, towards center stage, looking for something. I resist every impulse in my body to lean over to my friend and whisper in my best Elmer Fudd “You must be vewy, vewy quiet…”
The ballerinas are wearing pastel colored filmy whisp-o-dresses designed for maximum flutter-effect; the males are in blousy, romantic long-sleeved shirts, and tight tight tights. It’s quite obvious there’s absolutely zero percent body fat on the stage for the next hour and a half. I dab my mouth for a drool-check. I pick out a favorite and decide his name is Klaus Assencalves.
There is only a piano accompanying the dancers, and after about an hour I find myself being lulled into a relaxed, sleepy state, thinking maybe that tasty margarita with dinner wasn’t such a good idea. I take slow, deep breaths to mask my yawns. An apricot colored ballerina floats across the stage and I’m dreamily reminded of the sweet potato fries I grudgingly didn’t order at dinner. I worry my stomach will growl.
How can they do all that stuff on their toes? I’m in my seat slowly stretching my leg to avoid a cramp from sitting still and quiet and good (good, good, good, yes I am so good), and here they are twinkle-toeing at cartoon speed across the stage, (looking just like cats crossing the road at night), and then they do it backwards! What amazing strength!
The performance ends and the entire troupe takes a bow, then they take bows in pairs, then as a group again, then after the curtain goes down it goes back up again and they take another bow, then the curtain’s down again and they all come through it and take another bow in front of the curtain. I’m worried if I go to the restroom when I come out there’ll be a pair of ballerinas bowed in front of my stall. Or, when we get to the car, next block over, there’ll be a couple more bowing us into the Prius. I start to think they’re mimes – you just can’t get rid of them.
All in all, it was a lovely, mellow evening, even though I’ve never really been into ballet – when all my friends were taking dance lessons when I was around 11, I took guitar. I did have a couple black and white postcards of Mikhail Baryshnikov on my dorm room wall, though. Because I truly appreciate the strength, the beauty, the passion of the human body dancing. Especially in tight tight tights.