Thursday, December 10, 2015

Going Nuts

Oh, nuts! It's starting already.

Christmas is just two weeks away. But, that's not the problem. I'm actually in good shape.  

Christmas cards are done. Shopping is done. Wrapping is done. Well, everything except bows and tags. (BTW, this should be interesting. Will I remember what's what, where, and for whom? We shall see.)

One of my favorite things about the season is going to see The Nutcracker. Growing up in Manhattan in the 1970s, I attended the New York City Ballet's version at nearby Lincoln Center. One year, my sister and I got to go backstage to meet Gelsey Kirkland and she gave us autographed toe shoes. Another year, we bought little furry mice in the lobby concession stand. 

Still another year, we missed it because we both had the mumps.

As I grew up, there were many years I didn't go. In high school, I was too busy doing theatre (and homework). In college, I was too busy with my boyfriend (and homework). Then there were all those young professional years when ballet tickets seemed out of reach (I fondly think of that time as "The Ramen Era"). But, as I got older — and my bank account got a bit healthier — we started a new tradition. 

Each year, right after Thanksgiving, my mother would come up to New England for a long weekend, and together we would see the Boston Ballet's Nutcracker. It was pretty much just us (we did bring my future mother-in-law along once) until my daughter turned four. Then, she came too.

My mother likes to remember that first trip. She and I were both in elegant black velvet and my daughter was in red. We surprised her with her own nutcracker which she brought to the performance. As the lights dimmed and the orchestra started Tchaikovsky's familiar overture, I leaned down and whispered.

"I'm so proud of you, honey."

Without missing a beat, she responded, "I'm so proud of you too, Mommy."

Since then, we've rarely missed our annual performance. Things have changed: new sets, costumes, choreography, even a new venue when the Boston Ballet was evicted in order to accommodate the Radio City Rockettes (a poor call on the part of the Wang Center, if there ever was one). 

We've experienced change on our part too. Several years ago, my daughter refused to wear party dresses (she was already self-identifying as a horsewoman, and lace and bows weren't going to cut it). A few years later, I stopped giving her nutcrackers because we had no more room for them. Our collection, mostly hers and lined up on our dining room mantle, still generates a lot of comments at our tree-trimming parties.

This year, we couldn't stop for a pre-show dinner (or post-show pastry) because of a looming test in AP Bio, the bane of my daughter's senior year existence. But, we had fabulous seats and the production truly was the most beautiful I think I've ever seen. At intermission, I tried to get my companions to go out into the gilded lobby with me for a nice group photo. Neither generation was interested; the crowd was too thick, the seats too comfortable. As the second act began, something occurred to me.

'This won't work next year,' I realized. My daughter won't be here the week after Thanksgiving. She'll be in Ohio or Vermont or New Hampshire or Rhode Island. This, of course, made the lovely and bittersweet second act all the lovelier and more bittersweet.

At the end of the ballet, there's a gorgeous pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker (who is more of a prince consort by that time). Then, all of the inhabitants of the land of sweets dance once more and wave good-bye to Clara and her uncle/wizard/godfather/grownup-friend Herr Drosselmeyer (there's a little grey area there and more than one version I've seen has been downright creepy in a Humbert Humbert way). 

In the current Boston Ballet production, there's an added coda. Clara is sleeping (on a really nice fainting couch) with her little wooden nutcracker. Each character she's met stops by and sort of enchants her one last time. She wakes and stretches in that graceful way that only ballerinas can. 'It's all been a dream,' she seems to think. Then, she lifts her hands and feels the jeweled crown on her head. She smiles in wonder and delight. And ... curtain.

So, yours truly spends the enthusiastic ovation, subtly wiping away tears (really not a good idea to let the teen know that I'm choked up). Was I verklempt because Clara's dream was over? Or because the past eighteen years have gone by way too fast? 

I think we know the answer. The more pressing question is this. If I can't get through The Nutcracker without tearing up, how will I make it through the next eight months?

This is going to be nuts.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien.    

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