Tuesday, 26 August 2008
The Ballet Shoes of the Firebird
Did I tell you that I once knew Natasha Fortuna? I knew her when she was only a little girl. Then she often used to dance on the way to school and on the way home too. That much is true. It is also true that she grew up from a lovely little girl to be a beautiful young woman. But the rumours that she stopped dancing because she was unlucky in love are just that - rumours. What happened in reality was much worse and Natasha has never got over the fact that she will never dance again.
She was dancing in The Firebird at the time this all happened. It is true that she was in love with her leading man in the ballet and it equally true that she was not the love of his life. He was more interested in the second violinist in the orchestra, a woman of great beauty herself and some considerable talent. When Natasha found out, she was sad naturally, but she knew the second violinist and loved her. The thought that her leading man and her dearest friend were in love cheered her greatly and she wished them well. In any case, she loved her dancing more than anything in the world, certainly more than a mere man. In some ways, that was the problem.
It was during this time that I first met Natasha and came to love her very much. I was merely a maker of ballet shoes, not a dancer. I was old enough to remember Nijinsky, whom I met as a little boy. That was when I noticed his shoes and began to take an interest. Natasha's dresser came into the shop one day just after lunch and told me that she needed new point shoes for the Firebird played by Natasha, red and gold. Point shoes are those shoes a ballerina must wear if she is to stand on tiptoes. I made her a fine pair, but nearer evening Natasha and her dresser returned in a panic. The shoes had vanished and could not be found. I recall that I frowned, but Natasha assured me that the shoes had been very carefully cared for from the moment she set eyes on them.
I searched for a spare pair and found them. They would do, but she would need new shoes for the following night's performance. I assured her that I would make her a new pair for the following day. She went on in the spare pair and was a success as usual. Her final dance in the victory over the villainous Kashchei moved people to tears. All that night however I wondered where the shoes I had made her had disappeared to. I struggled to sleep and when I did, I dreamed that my dear ginger cat Pixie led me to the theatre and showed me up on the roof, a beautiful faerie dancing most beautifully in the shoes I had made for Natasha.
The following morning, I arose and fed Pixie before I ate my breakfast. It was early, not quite morning and yet the night was passing away. In that period between night and day - in dusk and dawn it is said that is when the faeries are around and that animals speak. I had never paid attention to such tales, but now I looked at Pixie and asked her,
"Did the faeries really take the shoes I made for Natasha Fortuna?"
Pixie licked her nose delicately and turning her head looked at me and smile, shutting her eyes slowly before answering clearly,
"As I showed you last night. It is the faerie Vasilisa who has the shoes. She loves to dance and took the shoes for herself."
I thought for a moment and thanking Pixie kindly for her information, I made a new pair of shoes with tiny iron crosses in the block toes of the shoes. These I made ready for collection and around midday, Natasha and her dresser turned up. I remember that Natasha wore a fine blue dress, boots of deerskin and over these a large coat of the finest wool. She looked so beautiful and the cold weather outside had brought a pretty blush to her lovely face. Her hair was red and her eyes were green and she almost looked like a firebird herself. I did not hand over the shoes directly, instead I asked her to sit down and told her all I knew. She stroked Pixie and picked up the ginger cat to hug. Pixie was very tolerant and allowed herself to be called a good and lovely cat - which was in any case true.
Somehow Natasha did not really seem to take my news too seriously. She was full of life and energy as the young are. She chattered on about faeries and how her sister's little girl had once said she'd seen a faerie but nobody believed her. I asked if the little girl had worn a steel or iron cross and she replied that her grandmother had insisted upon it so they saw no harm in it. I was much relieved, knowing how much the faeries like to steal little children. In any case, I warned Natasha, she was not to be anything other than conciliatory to the faerie should she meet her. It was not a good idea to cross the faeries. Natasha kissed me and laughed.
"My but you look so very serious!" she said.
I assured her that I was very serious. I told her about Peter, my uncle's daughter's boy who had challenged a small old man to a contest at fiddle playing. The old man had lost and was so angry that he spoke a chaunt and Peter had lost his wits. To this very day he knows not whether he is coming or going, I told her. She took the shoes, thanked me and paid me for them before kissing me and Pixie. Then she left with her dresser for the theatre.
It appears that there were two Firebirds at the ballet that night. One of them danced beautifully and almost wooed the Prince away from his second violinist. The other however danced as if she were the very Firebird herself and saved the Prince from Kashchei the Deathless. The ballet was much remarked upon. Very early the following morning however, Natasha appeared in my shop in tears. I sat the poor young woman down and brought her a cup of tea to steady her nerves.
"You didn't listen did you?" Pixie asked her, "When Vasilisa appeared as the Firebird and danced so well, you took it as a challenge, despite being warned. You ought to have let Vasilisa dance the whole ballet instead and taken the night off. You could have gone to Pastoral and drank champagne instead, but you had to compete against Vasilisa."
I admonished the cat, after all, Natasha was upset. But she tearfully agreed that Pixie was right entirely and now, she sobbed,
"I cannot dance at all!"
"Oh come now," I said trying to cheer her up, "You're still the best ballerina in the world."
"Oh no, no. I tried this morning, but it was as if I had forgotten everything I had learned. I cannot dance a single step. I will have to retire from the ballet - I am undone. Alas! I am undone for I have no more dance left," she sobbed ruefully.
She handed me back the ballet shoes and I hugged her and told her that she was young and beautiful and full of imagination: all the things one tells the young when their world falls on them momentarily. She would find something else to do and she could still find happiness.
"So long as she remembers not to compete with the faeries," Pixie muttered darkly.
She left the shop a little soothed and never danced again. Instead she wrote books for children about the ballet. I believe it was one such a book that inspired the young Snodgrass to become the fine dancer he is today.