The fading Magic of a ballet tradition

HOLIDAZE

December 18, 1991|By Jean Marbella

What is Christmas all about, anyway? Is it the hustle and bustle of last-minute shopping? Is it buying -- and receiving -- presents? Or could it be remembering that one special thing that made the holiday seem wonderful to you. Each day from now until Dec. 25 we'll pass on some tips or thoughts about the holiday season.

I guess it's like when you stop believing in Santa Claus.

Just this past weekend, it dawned on me: not that there wasn't a Santa Claus (I'd figured that out a good two, three years ago), but that I hadn't seen a production of "The Nutcracker" for some time now.

That oh-so-sweet ballet of marching toy soldiers, candy canes come to life and, most of all, a nutcracker who turns into a prince in a young girl's eyes -- that was always the real magic of Christmas for me.

When I lived elsewhere, in various ballet-deprived cities, Christmas meant a once-a-year reprieve, a sprinkling of dancing dewdrops and snowflakes amid the usual drought. Even the farthest cultural outposts managed to scrape together a production of this classic.

Oh, the serious dance people tend to sneer at "The Nutcracker": TC It's a cash cow designed to draw the indiscriminate masses. It's a glorified recital, a payoff for parents who want flash-bulb, sparkly costume proof that their flat-footed children had Talent. It's a dopey story -- who gives a girl a nutcracker for Christmas?! -- with an overly long first act that only delays the real dancing that, finally, comes in the second act.

When it's all you've got ballet-wise, well, you take it. And you -- or at least I -- grew increasingly fond of it.

But now that I'm living where "real," non-Nutcracker ballet is available nearly year-round -- especially if you include Washington -- I've begun to take my old friend for granted. There's always something else that has to be done instead.

And so this Sunday, as two different groups were performing two different matinees within walking distance -- what would I have done for such richness when I was living in Wichita, Kansas? -- I was doing my laundry instead. Visions of clean underwear had replaced visions of sugarplum fairies.

I'm growing old. Soon, I shall wear my trousers rolled.

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