When St. Ignatius said, “God has a dream for you,” he probably didn’t picture a Korean t.v. series about ballet. But “Navillera” gives us fresh images for that traditional theme. Streaming on Netflix with subtitles, the 12 episodes never pall, but show realistically that it can take a long time to achieve a dream.
It all begins when Mr. Sim’s friend dies without realizing his long-deferred goal. He always wanted to go to sea, and feel the waves surge powerfully around him, but the closest he comes is launching a paper boat off the balcony of his care facility just before his death.
That prompts Mr. Sim to re-examine his own dream. As a boy, he’d been drawn to the sight of a ballerina, and tugged on his dad’s hand to pause. “He’s flying like a bird!” he exclaimed in amazement, before dad shuffled him away, mumbling that boys don’t wear costumes and make-up. What follows is a long, boring career as a mailman, a faithful marriage, and raising 3 children in relative poverty.
But when he turns 70, it’s Time. Somehow Mr. Sim persuades a ballet studio to take him on as a student. In an ironic twist, young ballerina Lee Chae-rock is assigned to be his teacher. Almost predictably, the young man’s initial resistance turns to deep, genuine affection by the series’ end.
It’s hard to resist Mr. Sim. He practices daily, shows up faithfully and undergoes grueling physical training with a smile. When he dances, even in the first awkward spurts, his face is transformed with radiant longing. By the time he achieves his dream, performing in “Swan Lake,” the viewer is both weeping and cheering. Then we understand the title: “Navillera” is a Korean word that means “like a butterfly.”
Along the way, the families of both men become entangled. Sim’s family, at first horrified by his plan, eventually comes around to proudly applauding the triumphant performance, deluging dad with flowers and compliments. Chae-rock, so abandoned by his own family that he must write himself sticky notes of encouragement, finds a home with Sim’s and is eventually reunited with his own dad. Before the final show, he writes Sim’s name in his ballet shoes, with the message, “he will soar.”
I was so tied into the series, it made me think about personal dreams. Since most of mine were in the academic/writing field, they were achieved relatively early in life. I’m delighted that dreams of having a family and writing books materialized far better than I ever imagined.
But in physical skills, I lagged behind. All that time and effort which went into writing and child-rearing didn’t leave much surplus to develop any athletic prowess, and friends from grammar and high school know what a klutz I was. Never once did anyone say, “you shine. You soar.”
So, like Mr. Sim, I spent 20 years learning yoga, similar to the slow and painful process he endured. It enabled me to practice in beautiful studios all over the world, with special experiences in Bali, Australia and Ireland. I glowed as he did when, unimaginably, I became certified to teach it, and led classes several times a week. My elderly students never had an injury and we all had great, if sometimes clumsy, fun.
So too, I always envied swimmers who were powerful and sleek as seals, or my grandkids who had no fear of water, but jumped in pools or lakes with ease and grace. I didn’t have a swimming lesson ‘til I was 29, but now I happily take my place in a lap lane twice a week as proudly as Mr. Sim danced with a ballet company. Around me, the quiet plash of other swimmers; above, blue sky; every stroke one of gratitude.
Dance metaphors for the spiritual life abound. I’ll always remember the late Eleanor Sheehan, csj giving a retreat where she acted out her first dancing lesson with her dad. “Don’t look at your feet,” he’d said. “Just follow my lead and hear the music.” It wasn’t a huge stretch to apply that advice to spirituality: don’t fret about the details; follow God’s lead.
Now that insight is enhanced by Chae-rock assuring a nervous Mr. Sim before they go on stage: “Do what you love. I won’t let go of your hand.” As the music swells, the ballet offers the beautiful image of two hands, gracefully extended from opposite directions. In a ripple effect, the closing scene shows the studio director accepting another unlikely candidate: pudgy, eager, older, awkward: an unpromising student. As we all are. But God has a dream…