Off Topic: Holiday Reminiscence
(Yes, this post will be out of character for me. Have to keep y’all guessing once in a while, don’t I?)
Something you might not know about me — I love classical music. When I was growing up, I was exposed to three types of music in my home: 1) from my brother, rock and roll, 2) from my father, movie/theater soundtracks (yes, show tunes), and 3) from my mother, classical music. I had a special affinity for the latter and loved to listen to it at night before I went to sleep. I was familiar with many composers and their various pieces.
One piece of music I adored was Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Ballet.” I think everyone has heard bits and pieces of this ballet in their lifetime; for example, who hasn’t heard this? Anyway, it’s a Christmas-themed ballet, so every year at the holidays, there are several live productions of the Nutcracker. But when I was little, I never saw the ballet, just heard the music. I didn’t know the story behind it.
When I was in my early 20s, I finally saw The Nutcracker. A friend and I got tickets and went to the Music Center in downtown L.A., and for the first time, I got to see the beautiful tale that went with the music. Briefly, it is the story of a lonely young girl named Clara, who, on Christmas Eve, is given a handmade Nutcracker doll by her uncle, who is a toymaker. She is so enamored of it, she can’t sleep that night, and sneaks downstairs after everyone has gone to bed. She finds the doll under the Christmas tree and falls asleep there with it in her arms. At midnight, everything around her changes, and her Nutcracker doll changes into a handsome Prince, who whisks her off on a magical journey with lots of treats and surprises.
Over the years, the ending scenes of the ballet have changed, but in the original version (the one I saw), toward the end, Clara and the Prince dance together, and the music takes on a somber, dreamy tone. You sense that something sad is about to happen. Sure enough, her uncle comes into the scene; he has come to take her back home (or, if you will, it’s time to wake up from her dream, and her uncle is a symbol of reality). The dance becomes a poignant struggle for Clara — you can see that she knows she must go with her uncle, she wants to obey him… oh, but how badly she wants to stay with her beloved Prince. The two extremes are highlighted by the fact that the Prince is all in white, while her uncle is in black.
As I watched this unfolding on the stage, over 30 years ago, I bawled like a baby. Not just because the music and the dance were so achingly exquisite, but because it touched me personally. After all, at that time, I was well acquainted with having dreams and fantasies that felt so real, were so compelling, that I wanted to immerse myself in them and never come back.
My life is not the same now. I have a prince of a man, and I made many of my fantasies come true. But I still love The Nutcracker ballet. And I still can’t watch that scene, or hear that part of the music, without my eyes welling.
For those who might enjoy this, I did some digging through dozens of clips on YouTube and found my favorite version of this scene I love so much, with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland. It starts out energetic, but the poignant pas de deux (French for “steps for two”) begins about a minute-and-a-half into the clip.
I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend.