Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The First Ballet -- Nutcracker, Of Course

Along about this time of year it often comes to the mothers of small children, particularly little girls, that it might be a good idea to take them to see The Nutcracker.

OK, so I'm basing my hypothesis on my own experience with the Es and their mom, but any way, last week she called me with the idea of going to see The Nutcracker.

It seemed logical as the girls are frequently taken by the idea of ballet and occasionally dance around the house in assorted tutus. At the same time, there is a conveniently located School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, which stages the holiday ballet each winter.

Then again, the bigger girls are only 2 and 4, so I thought a full staging of the production might be a bit much and suggested the local theater, which brings in a visiting ballet for a children's production each winter. As luck would have it, the day we debated the question was the final day advance tickets were on sale for the local production (smaller but cheaper as well) and the show was coming up that weekend. She was all in and invited my mother and I to join them as well.

On Sunday afternoon we assembled in our seats. The girls were excited, but E2 was skipping her nap, so a little on the edgy side. E1 had insisted on wearing her church clothes for the event and was completely adorable.

Now is the time for me to admit that I've never watched The Nutcracker in any form. The closest I get is enjoying some of the music from the Trans Siberian Orchestra at Christmas -- and I only know that because I did recognize some of the songs in a less jazzed up version during the production. Ballet, well, it probably is no more my thing than it is that of a 4-year-old. At the same time, I do have the patience to sit through some fairly lengthy, less than exciting things, thanks to years of covering governmental meetings.

Before the theater filled, the girls used a little excess energy running the aisles and checking out the seats. The theater at the Andy Griffith Playhouse, where Andy attended school 50 or 60 years ago, is the actual auditorium of the old Rockford Street School in Mount Airy. The stage is too small for a full ballet, but perfect for local theater. The seats are padded, as I'm sure they weren't in their school days. And the sounds and lights are first class for a small theater.

There was a bit of bustle over people getting seated and some confusion in front of us where it appeared there might be fisticuffs between some older folks over who got the seats. I didn't realize it was a such a hot ticket. E2 occasionally noted the appearance of shoes beneath the curtains and would loudly proclaim, "I see ballet slippers." Between those outbursts, she fidgeted.

Finally the lights went down, the narrator, who did double duty as a dancer, took the stage, and the show began. E1 claimed my lap and her sister sat on Mom so they could better see the stage. Act 1 covered a lot of territory, and by the time the curtains dropped, I wish I could say E1 was enthralled. Instead, as the narrator summed up what was to come in Act 2, she said quietly, "I wanna go home."

I told her I wanted to see the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, which she thought might have some appeal, and that the show would be over soon after that, so I thought we might tough it out. She agreed that we should stay. Next to us, E2 was faring no better, and I was doubly glad we hadn't opted for the full staged production and the longer drive.

The dancing was enjoyable and apparently inspiring as E1 now wants to take ballet, she says. All the same, Mom and I were both glad to release squirming children when the lights came up and the show, which had lasted less than 90 minutes was over. I'm not sure who of the four of us was most tired.

Afterwards, the girls had some memories of their first ballet and stories to tell. There will probably be dances and scenes that stick with them, bits and pieces they'll remember as fun. The fidgeting and unexciting spells will slip away from their memories quicker than they do ours.

It would be all too easy to say it was a wasted effort. The girls didn't experience the magic that we might have anticipated. But at the same time, I think sometimes as parents/grandparents we set our own expectations too high.

I still remember early Christmases with my firstborn, when I was so eager for her to have the magic and be excited, and it was really my excitement and dreams of magic that pulled me from the bed at an indecently early hours. By the time she was old enough to be excited, I was ready to sleep in (OK, only until 7 or so).

Remembering the things that don't go as we planned, or hearing other's tales of disaster, can easily dissuade us from trying new things or repeating an experience. It shouldn't and, thanks in no small part to my daughter's hard-headed nature, probably won't. Next year, while they will still be E1 and E2, they will also be a year older and in many ways totally different children from who they were this year. They'll have memories to build on, and perhaps there will be less squirming and more "Ahhs."

Another year or so down the road, we may all be ready for the full stage production and eager to appreciate an orchestra and full cast, things that would have been wasted on us this year and might have made the experience enough to dissuade us from trying again.

As it is, we'll probably tack The Nutcracker into our holiday plans moving forward. And E1 is still talking about ballet lessons.

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