When I was little(er), I used to sit next to our cassette player and listen to the stories of famous ballets. My sisters and I would follow along to the regally voiced woman with the accompanying picture book, complete with illustrations, pictures and fact boxes about each story. We were all ballerinas, though none of us were flexible enough to be any good or dedicated enough to practice as much as we should have. So, I guess we weren’t ballerinas as much as we were girls who simply loved ballet.
Those ballets, like Swan Lake and Giselle, swept us up in our imaginations about fairies and castles and love stories. And, like most young girls, the love story was always the best part for me. How many times did I picture myself dancing the role of Aurora in the Sleeping Beauty? Or better yet, living it (pink dress, castle and handsome prince)?
Now, more than a decade later, I find myself beneath just one such castle, lit up against the evening sky like a beacon of enchantment, in a part of the world where all my favorite ballets first came to life on a stage.
I’m wearing a nice dress, and even though it’s not pink, I feel like a princess. And I’m rushing down the street because, as none of my habits have changed in the last two years, I’m late.
“Dobrý večer, slečno,” says the woman at the door. I nod and brush past her in a whirl of cold wind blowing from outside, hoping to catch my friend before she disappears into the velvet-lined hallway.
“There you are!” says my friend, relief showing on her face. “I was worried you wouldn’t make it! They’re about to start!”
I can hear the orchestra humming as she gives me my ticket and we open the door that says ‘21’ – we have box seats tonight. The lowest balcony, left of the stage, juts out over several hundred floor seats and nestles comfortably below the many gold-trimmed boxes that peep out around the theater like pockets in a honeycomb. There are five chairs and ours are in the front.
We hang our coats on the wall and take our seats.
*I think it’s important to mention that the following pictures all come from the performance that I watched, put on by the National Theater. Like, it was gorgeous.
For a moment, I feel guilty being so tall, but the feeling doesn’t last long. It’s wiped away by the soft dribble of music as the curtain rises and the scene begins.
I’ve seen Swan Lake. I’ve watched Coppelia from the wings. I’ve been in and witnessed the Nutcracker a thousand times. But nothing, nothing, has been as gorgeously done, as breathtakingly captivating as this performance: The Sleeping Beauty – Šípková Růženka.
The costumes were grand and elaborate, with no sash or sequin spared. The choreography was flawlessly synchronized and delicate. And it was entertaining, with jokes and glances and ‘turns of foot’ that left me flushed with giddy joy as I sat enraptured in the dark theater and watched a dream unfold.
The story itself is well-known. Baby princess is born. Fairies begift the princess with lovely attributes. Fanfare is interrupted by evil fairy (or in this performance, a shapeshifter with an army of incredibly realistic bat-people). Evil fairy condemns the princess to death on her sixteenth birthday and everyone is sad and upset (justifiably).
Then comes the wonder. Amid the quaking dancers and crying courtiers, who are weeping or shaking their fists, alights the soft and elegant ‘good fairy.’ She stands up to the dark force with a strength so gentle it outshines the beauty of all the glittering hems and glowing faces present. She never gets angry. She confronts evil with a tempered confidence that good will always triumph over evil. And then she gives the baby the gift of love (or hope or life – call it what you will).
The rest of the story plays out the way we’d all expect. Beautiful princess is being pursued by a handful of suitors when she pricks her finger and falls into a deep sleep. The good fairy – ever to the rescue – enchants the rest of the kingdom as well. No one shall wake till the princess does.
Then, after a hundred years (during which time the audience enjoyed a twenty minute intermission in the winding hallways of the National Theater), the good fairy finds and guides a worthy prince to the princess’s tower where he fights the evil shapeshifter and wakes the sleeping beauty.
Wedding. More fanfare. Hurrah.
As the final number plays out, I’m struck by something I never noticed when I read my little book so many times all those years ago. The princess and her prince look happy and sweet and each fairy, suitor and courtier has someone to dance with as the big ‘happy ending’ finishes, but the ‘good fairy’ is not there. And yet, of all those in this story, she is the true heroine.
I realize while watching the smiles of the happy princess that she isn’t who I’d want to be (though I’d kill for her dress). She doesn’t really have much of a story (she’s asleep for most of it).
Why are we taught that the battle is always won by true love? Why does society teach us to be the princess, the center of attention, the one in the pretty dress?
Surely this is not the Biblical approach. Surely we are called to be servants – especially servants who trust in the Lord and His sovereignty, servants who are good and loving because He is.
I think battles are won by goodness. I think I’d rather be the hero in someone else’s story than asleep in my own. I think I’d rather be able to stand up against the forces of evil with a confidence that God’s goodness will prevail – and that, possessing such confidence, I will become both brave and gentle, both strong and beautiful.
I’d rather be the good fairy.