For all my dislike of the Christmas season, there are two things about this time of year that I simply love. One is the music. And no, I’m not talking about that trashy pop shit they play on whatever station calls itself “Mix” in your area. I don’t mean the incessant crappy mall noise that lasts from the day after Halloween until three days past New Year’s either. I mean Christmas carols, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” “The Carol of the Bells” and “Good King Wenceslas”, preferably sung by a full choir a capella or with classical accompaniment.
I like Handel’s The Messaiah as performed by nearly any church, and I enjoy everything put out by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. If you promise me good singing, I’ll go with you to midnight mass, Christmas eve service, Hannukah Lights, Festivus, or anything else you might be celebrating.
Directly related to the love of carols, and really a derivative of it, I love The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky is a favorite composer anyway. If they had given out Grammy Awards in the 19th century, he would have clearly received one for “Best Use of Cannons in a Non-Murderous Role” for The 1812 Overture”. Nutcracker is special though, because Mom (who hated driving downtown for anything) took me to see the ballet the year I turned five. (She did not actually drive. Jenny’s Mom, Bug, was willing, so I also got to see the show with my best friend.) Vastly pregnant with my sister, Mom still waddled down with me to look into the orchestra pit at intermission.
At home, we had a four record set that we only set under needle with great care. My favorite music came from the tail end of the first act and the middle of the second act. I loved the Snow Fairy scene, with its eerie voices, the Chinese Dancers , and the Russian Dancers (Trépak). Because it was Christmas music, we only got it out once a year, and I treasured it.
Several years ago, when a little girl I used to babysit was a Ginger Girl in Cincinnati’s production, I drove up from Lexington to see her. More recently, Caroline started taking ballet. I initially didn’t realize that kids at The Montgomery Ballet’s school can try out for the city production of The Nutcracker. But last year, I learned. I presented the opportunity to Caroline tentatively. I didn’t want to either push or hold back something she might love.
I said, “Are you interested? You wouldn’t necessarily be cast just because…”
“You should try to enjoy the tryout for its own…”
And that was pretty much the end of the conversation. I took her to the studio at the appointed time, and to my surprise, she was cast. The ballet didn’t notify us. They assumed our elated children would come home and tell us about it. Caroline missed the first rehearsal because she hadn’t bothered to mention it at home, even though she was thrilled to be an angel. (They’re the opening scene of Act II, and not all ballets play it with angels.) (Note to Asperger’s Syndrome: Please quit fucking with me this way.) We had another round of the ‘are you interested’ conversation, it went about the same as the first, and she missed no further rehearsals.
I later learned that under a certain age, pretty much every kid who tries out gets a part, because this ballet company needs lots of children. Montgomery isn’t a big city with a lot of professional dancers to fill out the cast. The choreography always calls for copious numbers of small people as everything from party girls, to soldiers, to angels, to polichinelles (Ginger girls). (Caroline already has her heart set on being a poli next year. Though I think she’d be happy with angel every year for the rest of her life.)
She loved it. I loved it. There were two casts, Caroline came with me to watch the show one night when she didn’t perform, and then I watched it again every night when she did. All told, I saw The Nutcracker five times last year. Bliss.
However, due to disorganization and internal squabbling, I never got a picture of Caroline in costume. The angels had a pretty complicated little dance, and I would have liked something to commemorate it.
This year, the internal squabbling blew up into an outright rift, artistic director Elie Lazar left to go be a professor at Troy University, and, aside from the infighting, a couple of professional dancers moved on to new posts. The company had to scramble to get together some choreography and extra adult dancers to put on a Nutcracker at all. (It’s the ballet’s cash cow, really it’s only cash cow, so there was no question of its fate. Just a scramble to get it done.) In the end, there was only a one weekend run (it usually lasts for two weeks) with a single cast (not two casts like in years past).
Caroline was cast once more as an angel, and this year I got bold. Scott’s Mom came down to see her granddaughter in the production. (Naturally, we gave her the flu. Sorry Betty.) Scott ushered for two shows, I ushered for two shows (we overlapped when Betty watched Sam so Scott and I could see Caroline together for a performance), and for the final show, I volunteered to work downstairs with the kids, hauling along my oh so forbidden camera like a jet-pack on my hip.
So, not only did I get the joy of watching my little girl dance in my own favorite ballet, I got the bloody evidence.
And now, as a final note, I will leave you with this image. A ballerina should never wear panties beneath her tights. The lines are visible to the audience. Caroline doesn’t. Many of the other kids do, because they freak out at the thought of going commando, even in layers. Ballerinas’ modesty is protected by their leotards. But when you see a danseur up there on stage, please consider that those thin little costumes that don’t leave much to the imagination are leaving even fewer empty spaces for you to fill in than you might have previously considered.
That is all.