Stop. Put down that egg nog. You have a ballet to attend!
What ballet you ask? The Nutcracker, of course! The likelihood that a production of The Nutcracker ballet is being staged near you right now is incredibly high. Inner city, rural America, West Coast, East Coast, Middle America and even on the bayou -- you have no excuse not to visit the Stahlbaum family, wonder at the toys of Herr Drosselmeyer, take a sleigh ride through flittering snowflakes and entertain visions of sugar plum fairies in a Kingdom of Sweets.
I have performed in various productions of this holiday classic for more than 20 years, making my debut at five-years-old by shuffling across the stage holding my lit candle as a baby angel with the mythic Christmas tree growing behind us to epic heights. I went on to be a mouse, a toy soldier, the Governess, a snowflake, a flower, Arabian dancer and even a prop as the shuffling clock. Long past performing now myself, I do try to attend a performance each year, my heart swells as the opening bars of Tchaikovsky's score lilt us into the party scene and I anxiously await what new choreography might be added to well-known variations. The audience nearly hums along with the well-known Russian Dance or Sugar Plum Fairy solo, while every young girl dreams of one day being Clara.
Although I enjoy The Nutcracker for sentimental reasons, I think there are compelling reasons that we should all attend a local version. First, for many regional ballet companies, the annual production of The Nutcracker is the artistic version of black Friday, in that the rest of the season can be financed by the well-attended performances of this holiday classic. While maintaining its classic ballet vocabulary, The Nutcracker remains one of the most accessible ballets for general audiences as it moves along with an exciting narrative of sibling rivalry transformed into heroic, toy battles topped off with Willy Wonka-esque dreamy dances. Attending a festive performance near you will not only entertain you, but will offer a powerful way to support the dance world in your corner of the world.
Second, The Nutcracker remains one of the primary ways that young dancers become acquainted with the world of professional or semi-professional dancing by dancing alongside well-trained adult dancers, like in the party scene, battle scene or Act II variations. I have written with a critical eye of the American tradition of the dance recital, and children performing in The Nutcracker stands in sharp contrast to that tradition. The incorporation of young dancers in these productions exemplifies the strength of apprenticeship in the arts. Instead of performing for the sake of performing, these young dancers learn to be a part of a greater narrative, to play a part, to work with others to create a fictional world, to work with and respect other adults (beyond parents or teachers) who also perform alongside them, and ultimately to dream. As a child and teenager, I knew what good dancing looked like because I had stood in the wings during countless Nutcracker productions and watched with awe the precision pointe work of the Snow Queen, the effortless partnering of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince and the intricate teamwork of the corps de ballet as their human shape fell away and they transformed into patterns of snowflakes. Seeing good dancing inspired me to keep working, to ask questions, and to match my behavior to the role models all around me.
So, what are you waiting for? Go see The Nutcracker!
To read more from Amy Ziettlow, visit www.familyscholars.org, or follow her on Twitter at @RevAmyZ.