Nutcracker Follies, or - The Mouse was a Ham!
I'd like to think that Pyotr Tchaikovsky had a good sense of humor. I guess a guy who dreamed up a Sugar Plum Fairy and Mother Ginger must have been pretty mellow. About sixteen years ago I attended a performance of The Nutcracker with my mom and two young children which forever more changed the way I think about this ballet. At the first strains, I chuckle to myself and relive the moments.
The four of us settled into our auditorium seats and waited for the magic to begin. My son, Mic, was almost four-years-old. Although he is now 6'5" tall, at that point he was so small that his dark green elastic-waist corduroy pants and hiking boots didn't come anywhere near reaching the floor, instead they just stuck out straight in front of him in the fold-down upholstered seat. The lights dimmed, curtains opened and Mic was in awe of the on-stage Christmas tree, sparkling with candles and decorations.
Act One progressed and the toys around the tree came to life while the room filled with an army of mice, lead by the fierce Mouse King. As the Nutcracker awakened, he led his army of toy soldiers into battle with the mice. The Mouse King cornered the Nutcracker and battled him one-on-one. The Nutcracker seemed to be no match for the Mouse King.
This particular Mouse King must have been a stand-up comic whenever he had a day off. He wore a little red felt vest and jazzy golden crown and something that looked like a blue Speedo. He probably watched one too many Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone swordfights because I think he forgot he was a grown-up in a rodent suit and truly believed he was a suave swashbuckler. He lunged and parried the poor mustachioed Nutcracker without mercy while the little toy soldiers seemed confused. Finally, the red-suited Nutcracker had it and violently stabbed the Mouse in the ribs. You've heard the term Drama Queen? Well, this guy was a Drama King! Instead of dying instantly, the Mouse staggered around with his grey paws clutched to his furry chest. He stumbled, gyrated and lurched. He fell to his knees (does a mouse have knees?), rose and started all over again. The Mouse was a ham. The auditorium was silent until the little guy next to me in the green corduroy elastic-waist pants shouted, "JUST DIE!" For a moment, I wanted to crawl under the fold-down seat and die too, but then the crowd burst into applause, hoots and cheers. Apparently, they were also fed up with the over-acting.
Now I probably should have explained that this was an amateur performance of The Nutcracker. Every dance studio in a thirty-mile radius supplied the dancers and every parent in the audience cared only about seeing their own kid up on stage. Fast forward to Act Two.
My then two-year-old daughter, Ehris, sat on my lap for Act One and after Intermission moved to my mom's lap. She fingered her red velvet dress and admired her lacey white tights. She patiently sat through the Spanish, Chinese and Russian dances, but by the time Mother Ginger's horde of children cart wheeled back under her skirt, she was getting a bit fidgety. I signaled to my mom to keep her occupied. I knew that long-awaited moment, the moment every parent of a future ballerina dreams of, was coming: the Waltz of the Flowers. I didn't want to obscure anyone's view as we moved Ehris.
If you're one of the eleven people in the United States who has never seen The Nutcracker, let me explain the Waltz of the Flowers. It begins with one ballerina and concludes with about sixty ethereal girls and layers and layers of tulle and netting. It is the show-stopper, the reason every parent drives their kid to ballet lessons!
At the exact same moment, Ehris began to squirm and the harp began to be plucked. I knew it was useless; we had to move her. I gave my mother the signal for the hand-off. It was all downhill from there. I reached for Ehris and somehow as I lifted her across Mic, her lacey white tights got caught on the top metal hook of his hiking boots. In a flash, the tights were down around her ankles! I looked at my mom whose eyes were wide with shock and then we both had one of those uncontrollable giggling episodes. Hands to our mouths we held back snorts, then grabbed our stomachs and slid down in our seats. Every parent in the place was searching the stage for their little Pavlova. The tights were now snagged on Mic's hiking boots. We shook with muffled laughter. You all know that feeling. Once it begins, you are powerless to stop it. Ehris and Mic had begun to realize what had happened and Ehris knew that her ballet finery had been compromised. Mic knew that his feet were snarled up in a pair of weblike tights. My mother and I could not make watery eye contact, we were bordering convulsive giggling.
I honestly do not remember what happened next. We didn't leave the performance, nor
were we evicted. I guess we composed ourselves and got it together. Tchaikovsky, a troubled genius, once said, "Even in the works of the greatest master, the organic sequence can fail and then a skillful join must be made." I'd like to think that we made a skillful join and did not give my children ballet phobia.
Velya Jancz-Urban at www.chicapeeps.com