Saturday, December 22, 2007


The dancing roses were always my favorite part. Picture a dozen or more ballerinas in flowing costumes of teal, purple, rose, blue and gold floating in and out of symmetrical formations, leaping and dancing in unison to Tchaikovsky. Pure eye candy.

For my mother and me, the San Francisco Ballet Company's Nutcracker has been an annual tradition since I was four years old. Sometimes with friends, most times just the two of us, we would dress up in our holiday best, bundle up and set out into the cold winter night. Walking down Van Ness in formal attire can be quite an adventure for a youngster, what with all the homeless beggars. But it was always exciting to see so many folks bustling about in their finery.

I have such warm and fuzzy memories of magical Nutcracker evenings: Christmas lights sparkling everywhere, special dinners out and time alone with Mom. Plus, as a season ticket holder, Mom could always score the best seats in the house: front row, Grand Tier.

After the performance we would always relish discussing the show during the dark ride home.

"Did you see that snowflake fall?"

"What did you think about the Cavelier?"

During my rebellious teenage years, the Nutcracker was a night sacrosanct; any ugly thoughts or feelings I had towards Mom were forgotten. And throughout my Deadhead phase I felt an extra-special appreciation for the patterns and formations of the dancers. Anyone who has been a deadhead, or known a deadhead will know what I mean. As a young adult I began to realize how precious our Nutcracker tradition was, and my feelings of affection for my mom and the Nutcracker deepened.

But it has been as a mother of my own kids that I have really come to love and cherish this special night. My son, and then my daughter have been coming with us since the age of five. The first year was a bit dicey for both of them; that cannon can be scary! And sitting still for over an hour is a trial for any five year old.

Oh! how they love to go out to a special dinner at Max's with Nan Nan and me, ordering and eating whatever they want. My eleven year old son especially loves this part; this year he consumed an appetizer, soup, salad and an entre. Luxury!

The sparkling, glittering Nutcracker store inside the opera house dazzles them. Joe spots the kids some cash each year so they can buy my Christmas present there. Then finding our cozy, red velvet seats and gazing down onto the gallery and orchestra is sweet. Now that they play violin, the kids have an added interest in observing the musicians.

Then, the show! If you have never seen the SF Ballet's Nutcracker, you'd better make it a point to get there. It is full of magic and beauty: dancing bears, soldiers and rats, lush Edwardian and classical ballet costumes, magically appearing and disappearing dancers. Of course the solo dancers are breathtaking, achieving spin after spin after spin across the stage (I counted 17 for the Cavalier) on one foot. The rollicking dances from different parts of the world - Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Russian are all amusing.

A few years ago they rechoreographed the Nutcracker. And they changed the setting as well. Originally it took place in an 18th century Russian noble's home. The gowns were to die for. But now the setting is circa 1900 San Francisco; it is very chic, but not opulent.

The worst part of the change is the Dance of the Roses. Oh, the dancing is still exquisite. But the dresses! They lost all those heart achingly beautiful colors, and now have only gold, peach and yellow. It makes me sad, because I loved the flow and blur of so many colors.

This year during the Dance of the Snowflakes, they dropped so much "snow" we though the dancers would drown. Usually it showers down lightly onto the stage. I don't know if it was intentional, but the amount of stuff dumping on the snowflake dancers was hysterical. Truly, I was a bit worried for them. The only other tidbit from this year's show was in the show finale, when a rose ran smack into Herr Drosselmeyer. She didn't fall, but the look on her face was priceless.

I guess I could sum up the elements that make the Nutcracker so meaningful to me: family, tradition, good food, beautiful dancing, fun, kids, dessert, shopping, dressing up, cushy chairs, great music, exquisite costumes, people watching and Mom. I hope we can keep going together for a long, long time.


Anonymous said...

hey did gran nina ever go?
I love that it is just your unique thing .

Sue said...

No, Gran Nina could probably not sit still long enough. Ballet was not her thing. Lawrence Welk was.