I was in the supermarket this morning. In the midst of the bustle the sound system played Christmas carol standards from Ella Fitzgerald and Dean Martin. I rushed around trying to get the very last of my shopping done. Then because I really needed it, the Chinese Dance from the Nutcracker began to play. I stuffed my arms up into my sleeves and gave my best imitation of one of the Chinese mushrooms from Fantasia. I know it is probably politically incorrect, but those little guys just make me want to dance. And as I danced my way around the corner I ran into a man dancing the other way. We nodded to each other and kept going. Don't you just love Christmas?
When I was in the 4th grade at Elrama Elementary School, my class made a field trip downtown to see the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater perform the Nutcracker at the Syria Mosque. They did very little to prepare us in advance for what we were about to see. In retrospect, that was the perfect approach. We just got our permission slips signed and then showed up with our brown bag lunches and got on the bus.
Holy Cow! The theater itself was fantastic, a grand building with sphinxes out front. Sphinxes. Imagine. Nothing like that in Finleyville or Elrama, where we had come from. We took our seats. The auditorium was huge. We all fidgeted and looked around at the murals and the chandelier. Once the curtain went up I couldn't tell you what anyone else was doing. I was levitating above my chair, dancing along in my imagination. It was wonderful from start to finish. I was the perfect age to absorb the wonder. And it still feels the same to me today.
Over the years I have seen countless versions of the Nutcracker, from professional productions to my niece's preschool ballet class. It is really funny when they are in tutus and diapers. I have seen the Harlem Nutcracker and the American Ballet Theater with Mikhail Baryshnikov and this afternoon, Nutcracker: The Motion Picture. I stay away from the animated ones, because they are, frankly, terrifying.
Whenever I see it or I hear the music, I am transported back to that day.
The Syria Mosque is now a parking lot. That is too sad for words.
I have discovered that there are a few places around the US, particularly San Francisco and Chicago where you can dance along with the Nutcracker. Imagine. Next year I am going to dance it, even if I have to go alone. I owe it to myself. I owe it to George Balanchine. I owe it to the world, really.
Let me know if you want to join me.
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