Xenia and the Bishop was commissioned by Harvard/Fromm Foundation for Sylvan Winds (NYC) and a narrator.  The piece was inspired by the Cinderella story.  I finished the music a while back, but kept searching and revising the textual component.  It felt increasingly pointless to use the unchanged, old fairy-tale although I was attached to it as it was the very first book I read by myself at age 4.  Its short paragraphs accompanied with beautiful drawings carried magic for me over many years.  By doing the piece on Cinderella I had wanted to make an homage to childhood.  Then in the current climate of examining gender roles and stereotypes in our culture I felt that our Cinderella needed to be of a different kind.  I realized that the stories and fairly tales we share with our children are the stories that they adopt as miniature models of life's workings, human behavior, and character archetypes.  So instead of reaffirming Cinderella, a beautiful and helpless girl who is saved by the prince and a fantastical creature/fairy godmother, I wanted to show a girl who can depend on her own resources and talents, historically not often attributed to women and girls.  So I f created Xenia -- a heroine who is different, shy, good natured, but also brilliant, and who finds her community and fulfillment thanks to her secret passion -- chess!


 
 

XENIA AND THE BISHOP
Story by Aleksandra Vrebalov


Once upon a time, there was a girl whose name was Xenia.  She was smart, strong and had a beautiful, good heart.  She was creative and funny, too.  She loved nature and people.  Her secret passion was to play chess – she learned it from her late mother and grew to be an excellent chess player.  In her free time she made little pieces out of clay, imagining they were her friends.  She was especially proud of a clay chess set she made using her late mother's jewelry to decorate the pieces.


Her hunger for knowledge and beauty was huge, yet not satisfied.  She was disciplined and curious.  She loved math and astronomy, and often played with animals.  She lived in a home where she sometimes thought she was not understood.  She was expected to play the children's games and engage in activities with cousins that she did not enjoy so much. Often, Xenia found excuses to play on her own, which made her seem a bit strange. 


One day she learned that there was a masked chess tournament coming up in her town.  She really, really wanted to go.  The tournament was open to everyone, but with two requirements - that 1) they come to play incognito and 2) they bring their own unique chess sets.  Her cousins wanted to go too, so they started private chess lessons to learn the game and to learn it fast.  They disagreed and quarreled on how to decorate the chess sets they got in a store.  Xenia kept quiet about her own original chess set, but often ran into her room to check on it, hidden under an armchair.


It was a weekend when Xenia packed the chess set and left for the tournament.  She put her blue-kitty mask on as she entered the tournament hall.  It was filled with most colorful masks and unusual chess pieces.  Xenia moved with her unique beautiful set through the space like in a dream, winning at all tables!  The figurines seemed alive. There was a sense of magic, of a beautiful order.  She played half a dozen games and finally there was the last encounter with another finalist – someone wearing a pink-bird mask.  They drew the queens to determine who was to play first and with which set, and Xenia’s set was chosen for the last game.


She knew she had to play fast as she needed to be home by dinner time.

The game was fun!  She won and was cheered by everyone.  Other players were coming to congratulate her and the trophy was to be presented to the winner.  But Xenia needed to run home.  She used the moment to quickly pack her set and sneak out as the MC was calling the finalists to get on the stage.  As she ran out, without noticing, she left behind a black bishop from her set.


For days everyone talked about the mysterious winner.  There were funny posters and many social media posts about the unusual clay bishop with a head made of black lava.  Who is its owner?  Where is the tournament winner hiding and why?  There was a prize to be given!  Xenia was shy.  She was so happy that she played so well and with so many good chess players that that in itself was a prize for her.  Her cousins kept talking about the tournament, about the mysterious winner with a blue-kitty mask, and teased Xenia for not participating.  Then one day they saw her clay chess set with a missing piece!  They looked up the black bishop online and yes – it was Xenia’s!  By the time the cousins broke the news, the entire town was already in awe of the secretive chess master.  Xenia’s school friends talked about the winner of the tournament with admiration and curiosity.  There was a sense of wonder and excitement around the stranger who played so brilliantly and then disappeared.  Xenia liked the buzz but thought it would be so awkward to be discovered.


So it happened!  The cousins posted a picture of her chess set with the unusual army of jewel-decorated pawns, knights, and rooks all in order and lined up -- with one empty tiny square among them.   By then, everyone knew that it was where the bishop belonged.


The organizers of the tournament announced that the owner of the black bishop was found.  Congratulations poured in from friends, classmates, cousins, neighbors, and strangers!  The golden trophy and the black bishop were now in Xenia’s hands, but the greatest prize was that she learned that her biggest strength was in being herself: in pursuing with freedom and passion what she loved and did best!