the Night Before Christmas..."
© 2003 by Nancy Dalva
a dance publication asked recently, "is The Nutcracker
so popular?" The answer is that it is so popular because so many
people love it. The reason for this lies, I think—leaving aside
the fan club factor, to wit, the many thousands of relatives who have
bought and continue to buy tickets to see young family members perform
in it—that many of us first see The Nutcracker as children.
Then, we see ourselves in the characters, and we see the kinds of things
we imagine when we play wrought large. Toys come to life in the night!
As children, we project ourselves into the ballet.
So it was with my first Nutcracker, which luckily for me was
George Balanchine's. Off I went with my doting mink-clad grandmother,
so perfumed with Bellodgia that even the delicious cookies she carried
in her handbag tasted of carnation. In the theater, I saw a dream come
true, and in a truly sublime way: I saw enacted a dream I didn't know
I dreamt, the dream of a perfect evening: It is a winter's night. Instead
of their usual custom of leaving me at home in my blue quilted bathrobe
with my bratty little brother and the dog, my parents-–dressed up
as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier--for a change recognize not only
my goodness and valor, but that my brother has wronged me, and that I
need a chiffon nightgown. Through swirling show, they take me to a party
being given in my honor. Magical entertainments transpire, and my parents
dance together with a perfect attentive decorum that makes me feel secure,
and that promises that marriage, which lies in my future, will be a highly
satisfactory arrangement. How keenly did George Balanchine, who had danced
the Prince at the age of fifteen in St. Peterburg, express the pleasures
and desires and anticipations of childhood!
But a deeper
allure than identification and one more lasting still is the allure of
recurrence. This is why we go back. Familiarity, content. Again and again,
the same story, the same music, the same scenery. While certain sophisticated
balletomanes may, out of a seasonal lack of anything better, go for the
differences—this debut, that Dewdrop, this new version–for
the rest of us, the best thing about the Nutcracker is the sameness.
There's comfort in repetition, and reassurance. This is true when we are
very young, and true when we are grown up. (In between, comes the teenager.)
The same way that children want to hear the same bedtime story night after
night, their parents want to see them snug in bed night after night, or,
when they are older and out of sight, to believe them so. For children
the Nutcracker is a story of adventure. For their elders it is
a story of sameness, blessed sameness. Sameness, as we can see all too
well now, is the opposite of terror.
When it came time to take my own child to the Nutcracker, I had
on my hands not a Marie, but a Fritz, albeit a thoughtful, serious Fritz
unburdened by a snooty older sister. I took him to Robert Joffrey's Nutcracker,
at the City Center, where I had so often gone with my grandmother. This
particular Nutcracker is very dear, with about a hundred local
children included, though not as principals. For each divertissement,
a pair of children costumed to match the adult dancers comes on stage
and sits down to watch them with charming attentiveness, modeling for
their cohorts in the audience the appropriate and desirable behavior for
the moment. Although the ballet is oddly cobbled togethe—Jofffrey,
dying, was issuing directives from a hospital bed—it has a lovely
coherence. Like Balanchine's version, it is deeply felt. Embedded in the
telling are correspondences to Joffrey's own life. Christmas was his favorite
holiday; Victorian New York a favorite place with a favored set of manners;
the stage was his home, and his heart. When, at the ballet's end, his
girl heroine leaves the land of enchantment, she departs not with her
Prince, but with her magician. She leaves with Drosselmeyer! And how she
leaves. At the back of the stage, a hot-air balloon lands, and in they
step into the pendant gondola. How can you not see Dorothy? The Wizard?
Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer! Robert Joffrey, immigrant son, Americanized ballet's
Christmas rite and left us, waving good-bye and saying, "I pulled
the levers behind the curtain; I was the wizard; Merry Christmas! Farewell!"
How wonderful. If you are a child, you see yourself growing up and going
off on an adventure, up, up and away! If you are a parent, you see your
wandering child on the way home to you, returning as if by magic. After
we saw the ballet, we went backstage, saw the flies, the wings, the stage
hands at the controls. We were allowed to step into the gondola, at best
a fragile craft. I collected a handful of stage snow—just paper,
with a fire-proof coating. Confetti! You can save it, but what's the point?
You're meant to toss it to the winds, and watch it take flight.
Volume 1, Number 13
December 22,, 2003
©2003 by Nancy Dalva
Autumn DanceView is out:
New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season
reviewed by Gia Kourlas
interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko
by Marc Haegeman
of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano)
and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)
The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan
Opera (by Elaine Machleder)
from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).
is available by subscription ONLY. Don't miss it. It's a good
read. Black and white, 48 pages, no ads. Subscribe
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