Birthday at the Ballet: Marie – Dancing, Still

This year, one of my birthday presents from my mom was tickets to see the debut of Marie, Dancing Still at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle. When I first saw promos of the show, I was ecstatic because it encompassed three of my favorite things – musical theater, ballet, and Degas. Based on the infamous sculpture by Edgar Degas entitled, La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans (The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer), the musical made its original debut at the Kennedy Center in 2014, and has since undergone various tweaks. I’ve written countless essays about Degas, the history of ballet, and I’ve stared at the replication of the little dancer sculpture at the Met Museum in NYC on several occasions. So, with the production choosing the Fifth Avenue Theatre as its new launchpad, there’s no way I could’ve missed it.

The star of the show is Tiler Peck, a principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, who played the role of Marie van Goethem. I need to preface everything else I write by making one thing clear – Tiler’s dancing was absolutely flawless. I’m so glad I’ve learned the art of keeping a “stiff upper lip,” because her dancing nearly brought me to tears. Even the slightest adjustment in the angle of her arms made a huge impact on a scene, and every step and pirouette she performed seemed effortless.

Marie was the model and inspiration behind The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, but little is known about her life. The random tidbits that historians have uncovered – i.e.: she was from a poor family and her older sister was a prostitute – are woven into the plot, but what happened to Marie after the Degas sculpture was showcased remains a mystery. In the musical, an older version of Marie tells the story of what some speculate may have happened to The Little Dancer, but it kinda parallels the Anastasia Romanov mystery. We all hope she survived and lived a full life, but nobody will ever be sure.

In real life, the Degas sculpture was met with ridicule and insane rumors behind its origin, based on how ballerinas in France were perceived during the 1800s. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, so I encourage you to do some research about how ballet dancers often came from poor families and what they had to do to fund their way to becoming a star onstage. You can imagine what people started speculating when Edgar Degas created such an unedited sculpture of a young ballerina in an unapologetic, somewhat haughty pose with her hands clasped behind her back and her chin in the air. It’s all addressed in the musical.

Such a cool set design!

To keep things real, I’ll say this: When it comes to the music aspect of the show, it totally fell flat. Unfortunately, there are no songs that could serve as stand-alone numbers, and all the songs strictly served as a narration of the story. In my opinion, what makes any musical a hit is when at least a couple songs are something aspiring Broadway performers or singers would want to use in their auditions, or the songs should be something that singers could easily cover and augment into their own version. At the very least, the crowd should be humming the tunes for days on end after seeing the show. There really weren’t any songs like that. But for me, the focus of Marie: Dancing Still wasn’t the music, but the story line and dancing. And those parts were perfection.

I don’t know if the musical is going to be shown at other theaters yet, or if the creators are going back to the drawing board to make changes before taking it on the road again, but I’m SO happy I was able to see the show. If it eventually becomes a hit, it’ll be that much more exciting to see its progression and I’d totally watch it again.

Since there’s no decent YouTube vids from the show, here’s a more modern dance clip of Tiler Peck so you can see just how incredible she is: