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Nutcracker Dreams girl dancing ballet
I ran out on stage. All I could think about was dancing

Illustrator Rachel Hellwig, 13, for her story Nutcracker Dreams.
Published November/December 2002.

A note from William Rubel

Last Sunday I went to see the ballet The Sleeping Beauty with my daughter, Stella. I had never watched many ballets until Stella was eighteen months old. One morning, in a café, I thought, well, I have a daughter, what about looking up “ballet prince” in YouTube? What I found was the Prince Variation in the wedding scene in Sleeping Beauty’s last act.  The Prince is dancing (showing off) for his now-betrothed, Princess Aurora. In this variation, the Prince dances in a circle with lots of leaps and twirls. It is an athletic tour-de-force and seemed to keep my then very young daughter reasonably engaged.

So, I bought the DVD of The Sleeping Beauty and that was a real success—at least the scene in which the evil witch gives Sleep Beauty the spindle that will send her into her long sleep. Stella watched that scene over and over and over and over again. And then, she watched it again. I vividly recall her saying “again” and my re-playing the DVD.

Over the years we have watched different version of The Sleeping Beauty which means in ballet terms that we have watched the same story with the same music interpreted with dance moves that are slightly different from each other. Seeing the San Francisco Ballet performance with yet another choreography brought to mind the many different ways that choreographers have handled the spindle scene my daughter loved so much as a young child.

To remind you what happens in the story. At the very beginning, the King and Queen’s secretary makes a mistake and fails to invite the fairy Carabosse to their infant daughter’s christening. The secretary invites all of the other important fairies, but not Carabosse. When Carabosse shows up anyway, uninvited, she is in a foul mood. She arrives, dressed in black, with demon assistants. She is angry. Very. In ballet sign language she tells the King and Queen that she has come to give their daughter a present. The present is that on her 16th birthday she will prick herself with a spindle, and die.

She will die! What a present to bring to a christening!

In the ballet story there were twelve fairies invited to the party, and all but one of them had already given her gift before Carabosse gave hers. The one who hadn’t was the very powerful Lilac fairy. So, the Lilac fairy comes forward and tells the King and Queen that while she cannot completely undo the evil witch’s gift of death, she could change death to sleeping until a prince finds her and kisses her, at which point Aurora will wake up.

Nolween Daniel as Carabosse with the Paris Opera Ballet. Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Image.

Well, you know what happens. However hard her parents tried to shield her from spindles, on her 16th birthday, at a grand dance, the evil witch appears, hands Aurora a spindle, she pricks herself, and collapses. She manages to rise again, but she is in a bad way. She continues dancing, but this time, her dance steps are erratic. In one of the most beautiful and moving scenes in all the ballet repertoire Aurora dances backwards with great speed, but as the poison spreads her backward movement becomes uneven, jerky, and then she collapses unconscious.The way most choreographers handle this scene is to have Aurora dancing erratically and the rest of the court looking on as passive observers. But there is one version in particular, the Sleeping Beauty that is danced by the Paris Opera Ballet, that is different. In their version, when Aurora is dancing strangely, all the people who are watching the dance sway back and forth in sympathy with her staggering back and forth. It is as if the whole world feels for her. I would urge you to watch this video of that particular dance.

This weekend's writing project

Reflecting on Princess Aurora, here is this Saturday’s project. I want you to tell a story in which something bad happens to a main character. The character can be a person, a fairy, a sportsperson, a member of royalty, a farmer, a pet, even an object that you might care about—like a stuffed animal. I want you to decide whether the world at large feels your character’s pain, or not.

Some years ago I had a friend, who died. He was a kind, brilliant, creative man: a musician, an artist, a poet, and a mathematician. His name was Gene Lewis. The night he died there was a terrific storm. On that night, I was driving back to Santa Cruz from San Francisco. The last twenty miles of that drive is over a winding mountain road. When I got to the base of the mountain, the storm was so bad that rather than drive over the mountains in the storm, I stayed at a motel waiting for the morning. It was during the height of this storm, when the earth went wild, that my friend died.

If this were a story about a fictional character who was brilliant and beloved by all his or her friends, then writing the death scene with the world itself howling in protest—the world flailing its arms in the form of thrashing tree branches, and crying in the form of a deluge, you would be reinforcing the emotional sense of your character’s death. On the other hand, the turbulence might all be internal. You could describe a calm world: the cars still driving on the freeways, the night calm, apparently no different from so many other nights. Your character dies. The world doesn’t seem to blink.

As always, if you really like what you’ve done, then please send it Emma via the Stone Soup Submissions page.

Until Next WeekWilliam

Thank you!

I just want, briefly, to thank the 215 of you who subscribed to Stone Soup in January. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I like to keep this Newsletter as free as possible from anything commercial. I’ll be sending out a letter this week that includes the fabulous February issue as a PDF, hoping to entice more of our Newsletter readers to subscribe and support the literary and artistic vision that our Editor, Emma Wood, brings to Stone Soup.



From Stone Soup
November/December 2010

The Eight Snow Globes

By Nina Lampert, 12
Illustrated by Daria Lugina, 13

Jessie walked up the stairs of the old Victorian house, carrying the sticky chocolate cake her mother had made. Jessie had met Ms. Pushkin quite a few times, but always accompanied by her mother. Now that she was twelve, her mother had decided that it would be better if she went alone. She was only there, Jessie reminded herself, to deliver a Christmas cake for their elderly neighbor. Still, what if she wasn’t home or something went wrong? Reaching the door at last, Jessie gripped the brass doorknocker that was shaped in a lion’s head and knocked three times. She waited, no answer. She knocked again, still no answer. Jessie was about to consider leaving the cake on the steps when the door creaked open. There in the doorway stood a frail old lady in a silken nightgown and a pair of yellow slippers.

“Hello, Ms. Pushkin,” Jessie said tentatively.

“Who’s there?” she asked, rather confused.

“Ms. Pushkin, it’s me, Jessie, from next door.”

The old woman was silent for a minute, and then, as though she had just remembered who Jessie was, she said, “Oh, Jessie, come in, come in.” Jessie entered the house, remembering her mother telling her it was the polite thing to do. Ms. Pushkin led her into a cozy sitting room with a roaring fire.

“Come, sit down,” Ms. Pushkin pointed at the empty armchair. Jessie sat down and then, remembering why she was there, she said, “Merry Christmas, Ms. Pushkin, I have a cake for you.” Jessie held out the cake, which was in a pink cardboard box.

“Oh thank you, dear, do me a favor, just put it in the kitchen,” she waved a hand toward a small doorway. Jessie got up and, doing as the old woman had said, she entered the small kitchen and set the cake down on the green tiled counter. Returning to the sitting room, Jessie sat back down in the armchair. It was then that she noticed them. Sitting on the large mantle over the fireplace were seven or eight intricately designed snow globes. They were all different sizes and looked as though they would have been rather expensive. Ms. Pushkin sipped a cup of tea that had been sitting on a large glass coffee table. The two were silent, just taking in each other’s presence.

“You like my snow globe collection?” Ms. Pushkin asked Jessie, who was still gazing at them.

“Yes ma’am, they’re very beautiful,” Jessie answered as she finally tore her gaze from them.

“That first one on the right, yes that one, that was given to me on my seventh birthday,” Ms. Pushkin said. “And to think that I still have it.” The old woman gave a snicker. “Now that second one I was given as a present for joining the circus.”

“You were in the circus?” Jessie blurted out before she could stop herself.

“Oh yes, I lived in Russia my entire childhood, you see,” Ms. Pushkin went on. “Moscow to be more exact. I had it all, the big tents and the face make-up that takes forever to get off. I was a juggler for my group. On stage I would juggle anything from potatoes to flaming torches of fire. It was the time of my life!” As Jessie listened to the woman’s story, she could see a gleam in her eye. “But,” she said solemnly, “all good times must come to an end..../more

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