The History of Ballet or Why Constipated Penguins Waltz
Mar 13 '03 (Updated Mar 19 '03)
The Bottom Line Fru-fru talk explained in non fru-fru talk.
Having spent many of adolescent years cramming my mutilated feet into shoes of plaster, donning tutus that made me look like a cream puff had eaten me alive, and miming monologues by kicking and falling over, I consider myself quite an expert on the grand old art form called "Ballet". Henceforth, I will try to explain the mysterious art form to you, using as many non fru-fru terms as possible and resisting the urge to put French words in italics at all costs.
The origins of ballet date way back to 1661, when Louis the 14th or Louis the Sun King or Louis of the Unnaturally Small and Pointy Feet decided for some reason that Ballet was his calling. Perhaps he dreamed one night that his feet were just way too comfortable in regular shoes and for this crime, he must dance on his toes for the rest of eternity. I do not know. All I know is that it is pretty darn funny to see a guy in a white curly wig and tights do ballet. Ballet is strange enough without a white curly wig, just tights alone is a pretty funny fashion choice for men, add a long curly white wig and you've got a whole cabaret act. If that wasn't dorky enough for you, all the dancers in Louis the 14th's court were men usually playing women (not much of a stretch if you ask me) and lifting each other to and fro pretending to be snowflakes and daisies. It is often speculated by reputable historians that this is the reason the French people attempted to kill Louis the 14th a few years later...or at least why they really really wanted to.
Ballet consist of five feet positions, all of which are incredibly painful and designed to make one look like a penguin who is constipated.
INFAMOUS BALLETS (or why the hell is everyone dressed like peasants and falling over every three seconds):
The Nutcracker is perhaps the most overdone ballet because for some reason, people in every country and city seem to think it is an enjoyable experience to watch a two hour ballet about dancing candy. Attendance at the ballet has been dropping dramatically year by year and I really believe that this is because they should update the Nutcracker. Instead of Marizipan with flutes (excuse me, but for those of us living in the modern age, we cannot relate to dancing goat girls with flute who are supposed to symbolize a mixture of almond paste and sugar) why not have dancing Twix bars and Jolly Rancher people? I digress.
The plot of the Nutcracker is virtually impossible to understand because it makes virtually no sense. There's a young girl called Clara, probably because she is German and her parents thought she'd grow up to be very fat, and she has a freaky Christmas Party where the children spend the majority of the time marching like soldiers. It's possible they are all on leave from some sort of military school but they seem all too eager to impersonate soldiers on their day off.
Enter Herr Drosselmeyer, also German, Clara's uncle who wears a cape, has white gloves and a magic cane. Um, creepy? To make matters more child molesting, Clara and her "uncle" have an unnatural friendship that involves leaping into each other's arms and lots of touching. The "uncle" gives his niece a Nutcracker which seems like a pretty messed up Christmas present if you ask me. What young girl wants a freaking Nutcracker for Christmas? A girl who lives in a house of shelled walnuts, apparently. "Oh uncle darling, thank you for saving me from a lifetime of shelled nuts! I had broken nearly all my teeth trying to pry them open!" So this "uncle" dude gives her an altogether Freudian gift that usually inspires rounds of laughter from Jr. High School students who are forced to go on field trips to see this show.
Moving right along, Clara is really a little too happy about this whole nutcracker business. It's all a little too creepy for her younger brother Fritz who breaks the Nutcracker in half to stop Clara from prancing around with it like a git. Unfortunately, this is not the end of the ballet, although I would recommend it as a good time to go to the bathroom because you won't miss much.
So, Clara's playing with her broken nutcracker in the middle of the night, and lo and behold, who has been lurking behind the tree? It's "Uncle"! Okay, if my caped uncle was lurking behind a tree watching me in my nightgown, I think I could not call 911 fast enough. It's okay, the woman playing Clara is actually a 30 year old midget so she isn't too bothered by her "uncle's" come-ons. Well, whatever, these large mice appear, prance around, then toy soldiers appear and kill the mice, and you start to wonder what the bloody mice did to deserve such unreasonably harsh treatment. I mean, they're just DANCING for chrissakes no need to start World War III. In some productions, a baby mouse drags her dead mouse father off the stage slowly to allow the stage crew time to change the set. Seeing a baby mouse dragging her dead mouse father off the set while weeping hysterically (although silently) is usually enough to set off the first waves of toddler hysteria in an otherwise bored to tears audience.
To sum up the following chaos, Clara's Nutcracker becomes a real live boy and he and Clara dance and go to "The Land of Snow" which really means they go outside the house and it is cold and they are eating Magic Mushrooms. The snow people run around like they are on fire, which is truly a disturbing concept/sight, and then the snow queen enters and tells the Prince/Nutcracker to take the traumatized Clara away somewhere fast. The way she tells him this is by pointing repeatedly at the curtains. Somehow, the Prince is hip to her jive and carts off Clara who cannot stop waving her hand at them to save her life.
Now that it's intermission, I strongly encourage you to drop mind altering drugs in the parking lot, cuz it gets a lot harder to handle than baby mice with dead mice fathers in the next act. Clara and her Nutcrackin' Dude go to a land of candy. This would be really fricking cool if you were stoned and the candy actually looked like candy. I mean like a big Reese's Pieces bar with his friend, Snickers, right beside him. But candy in "ballet land" looks more like twigs with heads in big fat tutus which give the impression that the tutu is a table that has sliced the twig's torso and legs apart.
The Sugar Plum Fairy tells Clara and the Prince to sit down and watch the candy dance for at least an hour to an hour and a half. The two must be pretty well-fed to watch candy dance for that long without trying to eat the cast. First out is Spanish Coffee! Which incidentally is NOT a candy but a beverage. A bunch of people wearing Spanish costumes prance around with fans and quickly leave because they aren't that important to the plot or the ballet company. Next to come is CHINESE TEA! um, also not a candy but a beverage, and Clara and the Prince start to wonder if they had gotten bad directions from the senile snow queen. Then we have RUSSIAN...WHATEVERS! In some shows, it's Russian Candy Canes which aren't from Russia, in some shows, they're just big burly Russians dressed like Czars. Then come the Goat People with Flutes or Marzipan, as the program would have you believe, followed by Mother Hubbard, who, by the way, is not a candy or a beverage but a nursery rhyme character who stumbled onto the wrong stage along with 2,000 of her bratty children. Then come Flowers, which are neither candy, beverage, Russians or nursery rhyme but FLOWERS for the love of Christ and they all bow down and worship The Dew Drop Fairy who is neither...ugh. The Dew Drop Fairy looks nothing like dew. She looks like a twig that needs to eat a sandwich.
The Sugar Plum Fairy comes out just when Clara and her Nutcracker are trying to sneak out the back to get it on before he turns into a pumpkin, and she does a dance with the Sugar Plum Fairy Dude who has no other purpose but to lift the Sugar Plum Fairy and carry her around with her tutu covering his face. The Sugar Plum Fairy Dude makes you realize that in candyland, they have no form of transportation other than him, and he's really just a car, cuz he carries everyone around and drops them off a few feet later. Not very efficient but a great way to save money on gas.
Grand finale of the candy, beverage, plants, Russians and car people! Everyone comes out and psychotically runs back and forth, stomping like a bunch of elephants, twirling, nearly missing kicking each other in the nose and trying not to fall into the orchestra pit! Well, it's time for Clara and the Nutcracker to go...somewhere? We don't really know where because the sleigh they are on (which, incidentally, disproves my theory that Sugar Plum Fairy Dude is the only means of getting anywhere) decides to fly towards Stage Left. It's a pretty rough take-off, and usually one or two of the candypeople nearly gets decapitated as the sleigh flies into the curtain. We don't ask what happens to the Nutcracker boy and his girlfriend. We only know that the twigs have finally stopped their incessant prancing and not a minute too soon.
GISELLE in a nutshell, har har...
GISELLE is a much easier and plotless ballet to describe.
Albrecht, another German, is a Prince who gets off on dressing up like a peasant and knocking up peasant chicks. First on his list is Giselle, a naive little waif twig, who sits around all day pulling off flower petals and doing the whole "he loves me, he loves me not, he better freaking love me or I'll chop his head off" thing for hours on end. Albrecht, having landed the psycho peasant chick, goes back to his sweet castle and his rich sugar mama. Giselle goes crazy and dies. But wait, how do we know she goes crazy and dies? Well first she runs around in many circles like a child who desperately needs ridalin. After a few rounds of running with her arms outstretched to the townspepople, who can do nothing to stop the spastic circles she is making, she thrashes her head around like a headbanger at an Iron Maiden concert. Then, after the running and headbanging, she starts spinning a lot. Spinning happens. More spinning. She's still spinning. A few leaps here and then and then spinning and then...BAM! She falls headfirst onto the floor.
Luckily, she doesn't start twitching and having seizures. Nope, she's just dead. Dead and motionless, lying face first on the floor. Okay, curtain? No, no curtain. Townspeople miming moaning...and curtain? Curtain. Curtain usually narrowly missing Giselle's fallen body which can prove to be quite comedic.
Now is a good time to sneak out the door as you will not miss any valuable plot points. So dead German peasant chicks apparently live in the forest and are called "Wilis". Whatcha talkin' about Wilis? Wilis hang around, shoot the sh*t, and basically wait for guys to wander in so they can kill them. Albrecht comes in, the Wilis try to kill him (but not with knives, with arabesques and pirouettes!) and Giselle saves the bastard's life and big whoopdedoo. How does she save it, you ask? More spinning, thrashing, leaping and carrying on. We don't know why she's saved his a*s, we only know it's matter of time til she falls face first into the stage again.
When Swan Lake first debuted, it was considered to be a tremendous flop. Maybe it is because it is about a man who falls in love with a bird. If you thought Clara and the Uncle had a weird thing going on, just wait until you see the beastiality happening all over the place in Swan Lake. Prince Siegfried who loves animals just a little too much, decides he's going to marry a swan he sees swimming around in a pond. His family only agrees to the marriage because they are locking Siegfried away in a mental asylum the following week anyway and figure they might as well play along with it for now. Siegfriend promises to love Odette, the swan, by waving his arms around, pointing at her and throwing her around. Odette is not really a swan but a princess, yada yada, she's still a bird and it's still freaking me out because I don't like birds much.
Odette has a twin swan sister named Odile, how messed up is that? I mean it's hard enough to be birds and twins but then to have the same letter first names is just parental cruelty. Odile seduces Siegfried by flapping her wings around and skipping to and fro. Siegfried can't tell the fowl apart and can you blame him? You probably couldn't tell the dancers playing the swans apart even if they all weren't wearing white tutus and feathers on their head. Anyway, after having nailed two swans in one day, Siegfried is understandably confused and messed up, so he kills a sorcerer who wears a cape and probably doubles as Drosselmeyer on weeknights, and Odette is a human once again. You'd never know it because she still is wearing white and has feathers on her head.
ALL OTHER BALLETS
All you really have to know about every other famous ballet is that someone has either lost their s*it and gone insane or suffered from a live heart attack on stage when they spin a lot and then fall face first to the floor. Either that or you're watching your local community theater's ballet production of anything and people just keep falling a lot. When people start skipping and whirling their hands over their heads, this is usually a good thing for them, oddly enough, not very good for you for you still have to watch it. If multiple people are locked arm in arm and dancing, this only means that they are too weak from hunger to stand up on their own, and need the help of their anorexic sisters to get across the stage. If men are dancing, they are usually only dancing because they are about to lift and/or throw some twigs across the stage, for men never really get to do much that doesn't involve being twig transportation. And the last thing to know about ballet is, if a guy in a cape who says he's your uncle is lurking in the trees outside your house late at night... call the police.