Paul Parish: the allegory of fairy tale, past and present

[ed. Note: I asked Paul Parish if he could please do the honors of starting us out on fairy tales–I have to postpone my own post –and to be polemical, please, as this is Foot in Mouth. By way of saying he didn’t have anything to say, he sent this entertaining and informed response.]
I was HOPING to get further than I have on thinking about fairy tales — most of which is, Damn, it doesn’t feel polemical at all…. I was thinking about the way dance developed as a theatrical medium in the era when allegory dominated the scene — so the function of all the arts was to translate the invisibilia into visible terms, and dance was the MAIN way to do it in the era of masques; you’d personify some large elemental force and give it a speech and a way of moving, and LO, Puckishness comes on flying on a wire saying “I go, I go, Look how I go!” or Louis XIV comes on dressed as the Sun and conquers Chaos and Night.
It’s STILL the easiest thing for a little ballet school to put on Snow White and the 7 Basic Food Groups (“Hi, I’m leafy green vegetable!” who then does a leafy green dance.) Match the quality to the characteristic and you’ve got Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring (as in “Cinderella”), or Melancholic, Sanguinic, etc. (Balanchines “Four Temperaments”), or Earth, Wind and Fire. (Paul Taylor’s “Snow White” has wonderful movement for the dwarves.)
[ed. note: Julie Atlas Muz’s brilliant comico-tragedy “I am the Moon and You are the Man on Me,” at PS 122 in 2004, is a recent allegory, where the bright moon and the eclipsed moon, the villains and the courtiers, eventually get entangled in one another. But it mattered that you could remember them in their allegorical purity]
And fairy tales are easy to do as quasi-allegorical materials — good fairy, bad fairy, fickle finger of fate fairy, fairy of may-you-never-be-hungry, the embodiments of blessings and curses. Petipa made his “Sleeping Beauty” fairies like Shakespeare’s, pretty little insect-like things that run around on absolute tip-toe like dragonflies on water, and used hops on pointe to create this magic — and if they can move like THAT, well, they MUST have super-powers of some kind.
The strangest thing about this subject is that allegory is BACK big time — Ronald Reagan poses in front of the Statue of Liberty, or shaking hands with Mickey Mouse or Betty Crocker.
Parlor games used to depend on everybody’s being able to distinguish fictional characters from real ones (“I’m a romance heroine starting with the letter ‘S'”). But nowadays I wonder how well that would go down.
The infotainment age is full of non-real-world creatures being treated as if they were real-world, and if Miss Piggy is not technically a bona-fide fairy, to all intents and purposes she is (and Nureyev has danced with her).
[ed. note: there’s now a new box on the right-hand column for contributors. To read short bios, go there]

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>