Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Nutcracker 2014: Momma's Little Angel

I told myself that this week I would only work on the tasks that must be completed before Christmas--etsy orders, homemade gifts, the ever-burdensome job of finding a chicken sitter, holiday memory-making--and, indeed, much of my time is taken up by advance work for my paid writing and editing jobs (wouldn't want to be stuck writing on Christmas Day to meet the next day's deadline!), but there are a few topics that I wanted to write about here before Christmas, and so I've decided that this fulfills my promise to myself.

Because writing about The Nutcracker wouldn't be nearly as fun AFTER Christmas!

Although Syd has participated in some pretty intense, large-scale stage productions before, and she's danced in ballet recitals before--on this very stage, in fact--we have never been involved in anything as intense, as exciting, as large-scale as this, the kiddo's first role in our university's yearly staging of The Nutcracker.

We're fortunate, here, to have a stellar ballet program, and a pre-college program that is both as stellar, and is the pool from which the children's roles in their productions are chosen. Auditions for this year's production of The Nutcracker took place way back in September, and Syd was cast as an angel, the usual role for children in their first and second years of ballet (the children in the Creative Movement program, who are all under the age of seven, are not invited to audition).

I had expected much of the time commitment that came with months of weekly rehearsal (and nightly practice at home, with a "practice candle" made out of a paper bowl and a pipe cleaner, and "Scene: The Enchanted Palace and the Kingdom of Sweets," performed by the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, on repeat on Spotify, but I didn't quite expect the hours--absolute hours--of daily rehearsals opening week, so much so that I still wonder how the children who had to attend school managed it, because I know that I sure declared it a school holiday! I was worried that Syd would become tired and stressed, so I devoted that week to supporting her, making sure she got plenty of rest and ate plenty of nutritious food, making sure she washed her hands often, making sure she had a lot of play-time and unstructured time when she wasn't needed at rehearsal.

Syd, of course, was not tired and stressed (well, that Saturday evening performance wasn't quite as fun as the matinee performance a few hours prior, but that was the only one). She loved it. She loved being backstage with the other dancers, she loved wearing her costume, she loved getting peeks at the scenery and props used in other parts of the show, and she loved, loved, loved performing. Just loved it.

Frankly, I was the stressed one. The daily rehearsal times were emailed to the parents the night before, and those were simply the times that your child had to be there, in the required uniform, her hair performance-ready as specified, carrying her backpack with street clothes, water bottle, quiet activity, and healthy snack. She mustn't be tardy, even though driving and parking on campus can be very, very tricky. She must be there at exactly those times, even if there's another child in the family who also has to be places right then. Again, I can't imagine how families with inflexible schedules that can't accommodate all this complicated prep and transportation can possibly permit their children to participate.

And about that hair... I had to STUDY for that hair. I had to Youtube "flat performance bun," skim video tutes until I found one that matched the ten-step how-to included in the 30+page parent's guide that we were given, watch it several times (and yes, that video is done by a child. A child had to teach me how to do this hairstyle), and practice it on both children before I felt confident to do it for real on the first tech rehearsal day.

It was very important to me that this bun be perfect every time (Gee, I wonder where Syd gets her Type-A perfectionism?), and every time I made a bun, I'd make a little note to myself for next time--less hairspray at the beginning; brush the hair into the high ponytail gradually, not all at once; note the placement of each bobby pin so that they don't overlap; place the ponytail slightly off center to the left, since the majority of hair will fall to the right, etc.

Wouldn't you just love to be me?

And yes, because I know you're as interested in this as I was, the bun was perfect. Every. Single. Time. Other parents photographed it to help them make their own buns, it was that perfect. Here it is, from every angle, just so you can admire it as I did:

My stage-makeup skills weren't nearly as good. I don't understand blush, and Syd had to tell me how to do the mascara.
 See? Perfect.

Mind you, I'm saying all of this like it was a pain in the butt, and it was, sure, but it was also so, so worth it. The kid loved it. She got loads of free ballet instruction. She got to be onstage, in front of an audience, doing ballet with a first-class cast, which was a big deal to her. She got to look like this--

--and it's adorable. 

She even got to be on TV, if you count the livestreams of every performance, every single one of which I watched. I even, because it's apparently the 1980s again (Aunt Pam, I swear that I remember you doing this!), had Matt take photos OF THE TV while she was on:

Syd's the blurry angel at center left.
Now she's second from the left.

Matt missed her other close-ups, which I, of course, wouldn't have done, but I didn't want to tear my eyes away from the screen to take the photos in the first place, so I probably shouldn't complain.

We attended the final performance, and at that one, I finally understood why I'd been trucking the kid back and forth to hours of rehearsals for months. Apparently, at the rehearsals, they'd always rehearsed to the music, and the children had been trained to not just count, and not just follow their partners, but also to listen to the music, and to follow the musical cues. And so during this particular performance, when the entire orchestra inexplicably--I still don't understand how it could possibly have happened, and I used to play violin in an orchestra--skipped several measures, the children were not thrown. It could have been disaster, with the children carrying on with their correct choreography, no longer in sync with the music, ending their number too late, and what about the Snow Queen and her Cavalier--how would they come in on time, with the angels still on stage? However, even though their choreography meant for them to do several other things, the children immediately heard the music change and without hesitation, they all skipped the same measures that the orchestra did and followed the new musical cue. Having watched the previous four performances online and actually knowing what had happened made it incredible to watch, for me--nobody else in our group noticed anything unusual.

And now The Nutcracker is over, and we can all concentrate on Will's upcoming aerial silks show. It was a wonderful experience for everyone, especially for my kiddo who loves ballet and loves the stage.

Next year, she's hoping to win the role of a baby mouse, or perhaps even a soldier!


Tina said...

Syd looks beautiful and AWESOME bun! I can feel the stress of the mess up just from reading about it.

Glad Syd had such a great time and everything went well!

julie said...

Has Emma ever seemed interested in trying any performance-y activities?

Tina said...

Uh, not even close. She is a really good rider and even when I suggest that she start working towards entering some sort of horse event, she is very, very against it. I did, however, tell her she would be participating in the 4-H speech contest, but I cut her some slack and told her she could enter the category where she can recite someone else's poetry.

Although she did just mention an interest in taking dance classes... I better get on that quick before she changes her mind!


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