In a fit of spontaneity, I talked Josh into taking me to New York City to see the New York Ballet dance The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. (Life long dream!) I’m still not sure how I managed it. I clearly must have one of the nicest husbands around.
Thankfully, I have a lot of family in New Jersey and New York, and they were so kind, offering advice on how to travel and where to eat, not to mention putting us up and babysitting for us. A thousand thank yous to all you beautiful people!
There are some things that you dream of, and you build them up in your head, and they’re so beautiful. They become far more beautiful than anything real life could offer. After so many years of dreaming about seeing The Nutcracker in NYC, I was afraid that I was setting myself up for disappointment. It was more than I had imagined.
The theater was a soft, gold jewel box. Each tier of balconies had giant diamond-like sconces, the balconies stacking four high. The ceiling vaulted over everything in an almost fractal-like swirl pattern with a massive gold and crystal chandelier. It was a giant globe of diamonds and gold fitted into the center of the ceiling.
The sets were ornate, lush, and so Russian. The stage was framed out in gold filigree with red and green accents. The Land of Sweets was sugar lace and candy stripes. The Christmas tree, which was close to 20 feet to start with, grew out of the stage until it went from the floor to the very top of the curtain—the trap door itself must have been 15 feet across to let the tree up from the depths of the theater. Then, as Marie (I did find it weird that it was Marie and not Clara) and Fritz leave for the Land of Sweets at the end of the first act, the entire tree was lifted into the rigging and the set was changed for a cool, snowy forest. When the Snowflakes danced as it snowed on stage to close the first act, it was like a snow globe had come to life.
When I was a child and dancing in The Nutcracker (I was a Ginger child and a toy soldier), we danced to a recording of the ballet. The sounds of the pit orchestra warming up filled the air the moment we entered the theater. They were flawless. Having both danced to and played The Nutcracker Suite, it’s a piece of music very near and dear to my heart. It would have been joyful just to listen to the music.
But of course, I save the dancing itself for last. I was surprised to see so many children in the ballet. They couldn’t have been more than 12 years old, and all of them were wonderful. The first act, during the Christmas party requires quite a bit of acting, and the children looked so purely joyful, as if this really were their Christmas party. My favorite of the first act had to be the defeated mouse soldier who so mournfully followed her dead leader off stage. It was a very sad mouse.
No matter how much you enjoy the first act of The Nutcracker, the real dancing happens in the second act. Josh, who hadn’t seen the ballet before, recognized one or two themes of the first act and about three-quarters of the second. That’s where you get the Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance and the Waltz of the Flowers. If you’ve seen Fantasia, you’ve heard the second act.
Part of the fun of the second act is how kitschy the “ethnic” dances are. The ballet was written in 1892, so the Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabian dances are all exaggerations and no one thought of political correctness. The Chinese costumes especially still reflected an old-fashioned, Breakfast-at-Tiffany’s-Mickey-Rooney-dressed-as-an-Asian-man feel. But the ballet is such a classic that you can hardly hold a grudge.
The Arabian dance was done as a solo. The dancer actually had finger cymbals and played the chimes for the music at certain points. It added another level of complexity to the dance that really brought out the musicality. Very cool.
But I will save my last gushing for the Sugar Plum Fairy. I’ve been to professional ballets two or three times. I’ve never seen a stronger ballerina. During the Pas de Deux she went on point, one leg straight out behind her, and through some trick of stage work her partner pulled her forward, on one foot, for five or six feet. Her leg never moved. You could see their arms shaking from the effort, but her body was completely motionless. A few moments later she followed it up with an extended turn sequence where again she was firmly planted on one toe, like a ballerina in a jewelry box. It was completely amazing.
There is so much more to tell, about the city during Christmas, which I’d never seen before, and our mad cap traveling on New Jersey Transit and cabs, but this is going a little long.
For all of you who have seen and love The Nutcracker, you know how magical it can be. For me it holds nostalgia not just for my young childhood, but also for the many teenage years playing viola. I smiled the entire show and nearly cried more than once. If you’ve never seen the ballet, go. It’s like nothing else.