It seemed appropriate to share this once again. We’re winding up Nutcracker hell week….night four of rehearsals, with the shows beginning tomorrow night. This year, my Princess earned the role of Clara, and I couldn’t be more proud. It’s been a long ten weeks of countless rehearsals, hours spent on partner work, long days at the studio and now the theater. So, when reading below, change the roles to Clara, Russian, and Waltz of the Flowers…..Happy Nutcracker!
I wrote the following a couple of years ago. I read it, and remember writing it, and realize that it seems like forever ago. We are in the midst of Nutcracker week, with one dress rehearsal and performance under our belts, and three more rehearsals and five shows to go. Now she is one of the older girls. We’ve moved from ballet slippers to pointe shoes now. Her make-up application now includes false eyelashes. She does her own ballet bun. This year, she dances as a Peppermint Fairy in the Candy Scene, and is one of the Chinese Tea side girls. I had a very difficult time accepting the Holidays are here, until I heard the familiar music Saturday. She is still part of a bigger whole….she is in the Nutcracker.
The theater quiets as the lights drop. You can hear the creaking of seats as the audience settles, the last whispers, the shuffling behind the curtain as dancers take their places. Nerves push my heart into my throat, and I’m not even performing. Tonight is the culmination of months of preparation, a final week full of rehearsals and dress rehearsals. She is exhausted but exhilarated.
We have spent countless hours at the studio and theater preparing for tonight’s opening Nutcracker performance. The music plays in our minds through days and nights. Candy Cane and Jester Doll steps are practiced down the hallway, in her room in front of her closet mirrors, on the sideline at her soccer games, and on the playground at school. Performance day arrives and we spend an hour getting her into full make-up and her hair into the now-perfected ballet bun. I hold my breath as I catch a glimpse of the future in her made-up face. She quickly eats, checks her dance bag one last time for extra tights, ballet slippers, spare bobby pins, hair spray, lipstick, and her water bottle. She kisses her daddy goodbye and we are off to the theater. On the drive, I give last-minute reminders to smile, have fun, reapply her lipstick during intermission, and take it all in. She is becoming aware her role in a Holiday tradition. At the theater, I check her in the backstage door, one last kiss, a hug, and wishes for luck. She absentmindedly waves goodbye, already focusing on the task at hand.
It will be madness backstage. Costumes will be hanging on racks, awaiting dancers. Tiny gumdrops, tinier gingerbread dolls will be corralled and entertained. A TV stands in the corner so the dancers can watch what is going on onstage during the show. Younger girls look up to the older girls. The older girls look up to the pointe dancers already in their Variations costumes. A barre is on one side of the room for warm-ups. My dancer puts on her first costume and twitches the skirt into place. She puts on her mask, adjusting feathers, and takes her place on the stage.
She dances first, a solo as a Jester Doll. Gone are the days of “peeking through the window” to learn how to plie, and leaping over hula hoops. She is becoming a real ballerina. I wonder and worry if I have pushed this into becoming her dream. Then she appears on the stage in full costume. This is bigger than my daughter dancing. This is the Nutcracker. I see her take a deep breath and then she dances. A light glows within her. A proud mom smiles past the lump in her throat and applauds her ballerina.
(photo, courtesy of Melanie Veling Photography, of the Princess in her Peach Blossom costume for Nutcracker 2013)