40: The Nutcracker Ballet

40: The Nutcracker Ballet

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

The Nutcracker Ballet

While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.

~Angela Schwindt

I took my four grandchildren to see The Nutcracker ballet for their first time — three little boys, ages thirteen, ten, and eight, and my granddaughter, who had just turned sixteen. We attended the Grand Rapids Ballet Company’s first ever performance of Tchaikovsky’s evergreen dance spectacle, at the Detroit Opera House.

My granddaughter wants to be an attorney and someday hopes to win a congressional seat. She’s not into dancing or the theater or classical music. The boys are into hockey and baseball and flag football and soccer and basketball and swimming and Lord knows what else that involves physical prowess. They all are fans of their Wii and a variety of video games and stuff to do with iPods and video players and rap music.

The downside of our ballet outing was that none of the three boys had ever expressed the teeniest interest in attending a ballet performance. For that matter, none has ever been keen to participate in dancing of any ilk.

On the upside, the four cousins love doing things together. They get along famously and they all have a sense of adventure. The ballet, for them, was definitely an adventure.

I briefed them on what to expect before we left: the performance would have no talking, and minimal singing (only a children’s chorus), and would consist of performers dancing to a rather trite, dorky story. But the music would be beautiful. The full orchestra would be live. The costumes and sets and choreography and lighting and such would be colorful and fantastic.

I outlined the story before we left: At her family’s Christmas Eve party, a little girl named Clara gets a nutcracker shaped like a toy soldier from her eccentric uncle. It’s her favorite gift. At the end of the evening, party guests go home and the children go upstairs to bed. Clara creeps down the steps to find her beloved nutcracker and falls asleep under the Christmas tree. The tree grows, the toys come alive, an army of toy soldiers fights an army of mice. Clara saves the day by throwing her shoe at the mouse king. The nutcracker turns into a prince, takes Clara to a fantasyland of life-sized dancing dolls, fabulous sweets, dancing snowflakes and flowers, the sugar plum fairy, etc.

They didn’t pay much attention.

We arrived early and had to wait about fifteen minutes in our seats until the ballet began. They played “I Spy” with the theater décor while we waited for the show to begin.

“I spy a lion’s head.”

“I see it.”

“I saw it first.”

“I saw it first.”

“No, I did.”

“I spy a candlestick.”

“I see it.”

“I saw it first.”

And so on.

The music began. They were fascinated. Earlier, I had decided not to push the ballet experience as I had with my three daughters. They remember The Nutcracker as something they had to go to every year because I insisted.

I noticed, however, that my daughters now talk up the whole Nutcracker experience to their children. “You’ll love it,” they said.

Did the grandchildren love it? Maybe.

Maybe they just enjoyed a new experience. Maybe they were humoring me.

Either way, one grandson sat on the edge of his chair, eyes glued to the dancers for the entire first act.

During what they called “halftime,” the boys made cootie-catchers out of the program inserts.

I was still determined not to push theatrical performances on this new generation. That’s what’s so neat about being a grandmother. Occasionally, you get a chance to correct some mistakes you made the first time around.

All four grandchildren were to spend the night at my house. When we got home, they held contests to see who could leap the highest, who could fling one leg the highest without falling, and who could jump in the air and touch the toes on both feet at the same time. They all demonstrated the art of gliding off stage, head held high, one arm flung forward while the other trailed gracefully behind.

So, I think they liked it.

The next day, one especially observant grandson told his mother and father about the costumes. He commented on the unusual clinginess of the men’s tights. And now, with apologies to those of you who don’t like this kind of humor, I must tell you what he said about those tights.

“They were really, really tight,” he observed. “That must be why they call it The Nutcracker.”

~Margie Reins Smith

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