Adventures by the fireside

After watching Queensland Ballet’s Cinderella on a Friday night and the Australian Ballet’s Don Quixote the following Monday I’ve started dreaming about fireplaces and wondering why the fireside makes so many appearances in ballets.

In La Sylphide, choreographed in 1832, the hero James falls asleep in front of a fireplace and soon encounters a winged and white tutu’d sylph.

She arrives through a window and disappears up the chimney of the fireplace. The vision has gone. Was she a dream?

In every production of Cinderella, the ballet follows the fairy tale story with Cinders sitting, sweeping, dancing and dreaming by the fireplace.

Magic takes place inside that fireplace, including the transformation of an old crone into a fairy godmother.

In the prologue of Nureyev’s Don Quixote, the Don imagines that his ideal woman emerges from the fireplace complete with her support team of monsters who dance around the Don who has been researching tales of chivalry.

And in many productions of The Nutcracker, the fireplace marks the transformation from reality to fantasy as mysterious creatures cross the border from the chimney and hearth to the living space outside.

Fireplaces and flames are gateways. They comfort, encourage sleep, and spark fantasies but fires are also entwined with mythology and religious beliefs.

In Exodus, a pillar of fire shines the way and in Roman mythology, Vesta (Hestia in Greek mythology) was the goddess of the hearth, worshiped in a temple containing the sacred fire guarded by the vestal virgins.

More esoteric symbols of fire and escape from fire are evident in every art form, from Handel’s Royal Fireworks to Brett Dean’s Fire Music, from La Bayadere to Die Walkure, from the fire escapes of The Glass Menagerie and West Side Story, and in popular song, my favourite fire song being Johnny Cash’s:

I fell into a burnin’ ring of fire
I went down, down, down
And the flames went higher,
And it burns, burn, burns,
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

As Ethel Merman once said:

“Always give them the old fire, even when you feel like a squashed cake of ice.”

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