My boys and the ballet

As I mentioned in my recent update, I took my children to see the New York City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker on the weekend after Thanksgiving.  It was a trip done on the quick and on the cheap and each of us deemed it a success.  My twelve-year-old son thought it was the best family trip a kid could have until he returned to school on Monday and heard a classmate’s account of his family’s trip to London.  (I didn’t mention that Ex has refused to sign off on passports, even if we could swing such a trip.)

Annie, 1978

I have seen The Nutcracker probably a dozen times, the NYC Ballet, several, but I had never seen the NYC Ballet dance The Nutcracker. I started dancing when I was four years old because my mother vainly thought the tutus were perfectly adorable.  (They were.)  I took to it and I clung to it, clung to it until my own parents split and money was tight and anyway, there wasn’t time any more with cheerleading.  (It’s true.)  It was obvious by the time I was twelve that I was too tall to be a ballerina anyway, which mattered more then than it does now.  Even so, I stuck with it for a few more years.  I even went to dance in New York City for a week with my studio, a big deal for a Midwestern girl.  My love of dance persisted long after my pointe shoes were tossed out.  Several times in college, I even spent money I didn’t really have to see the Joffrey and I converted several friends along the way.

In planning our recent trip, I offered a menu of things we could do in The City.  My close friends know me as “Julie, the cruise director.”  I offered a menu and then, the negotiating and bargaining began.  When the final deal was struck, my sons had agreed under protest to accompany me to the ballet in exchange for visiting Ellis Island and the Empire State Building.  (My daughter was game already.)

I didn’t even consider that my boys might have trouble following the plot, it wasn’t part of their common cultural lexicon as it was of mine. My sons were absorbed by the architecture and design of the Lincoln Center and though I encouraged them, they didn’t read the synopsis in the playbill before the lights dimmed.  Even so, they greeted a new experience cheerfully.

The performance began like so many of my daughter’s orchestra concerts and I heard a faint sigh escape from the twelve-year-old beside me. Then the curtain rose.  Ten minutes into the performance, my son leaned close and whispered, “Isn’t there any talking?”

“No,” I said, “It’s a ballet—a dance program.”

The boy sighed audibly. “I can’t follow what is happening,” he complained.  I had failed by not briefing them properly, by not having made the synopsis required reading.

“Don’t worry,” I said quietly, “There is an epic battle coming up between rodents and overgrown toy soldiers.”  He perked up.

I began a hushed narration of the program.  (I didn’t feel too bad, we were much quieter than the preschooler behind us who asked cutely and in loud whispers if it was Baby Jesus’s birthday, if that doll was Baby Jesus, and if various members of the company were Baby Jesus’s mother.)

“That is Dr. Drosselmeier, the eccentric clockmaker/toymaker uncle,” I reported.

“He is missing an eye,” the boy observed.  I knew he thought the cape was awesome, too.

After the curtain calls, I asked for the children’s reviews.  My youngest son was annoyed by the little girl behind us, but he thought the ballet was “spectacular.”  His favorite part was “the twinkie-bus-dress lady,” Mother Ginger. My daughter enjoyed the performance nearly as much as I did and my eldest son?  He said, “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”  (For him, that’s as good as an emphatic endorsement.)  The parts that the rest of the audience and I found most impressive, those featuring the Sugarplum Fairy, especially with her Cavalier, were those he found most tedious.  His favorite parts:  the sword fighting and the recounting of the battle.  (Yawn.)

My twelve-year-old son may never see a ballet again, ever.  Certainly it is unlikely he will ever make a point of it on his own.  However, someday he may love someone else who loves dance.  Someday he may love a child who wants to dance.  Someday someone he loves may ask him to sit through such a performance again and he’ll know it isn’t torture.  He endured it for his mother once and it wasn’t that bad.

“Mom?” he asked later, “Next time can we see the Metropolitan Opera?  There is supposed to be lots of dramatic killing and dying and stuff.”

Hell yeah we can.

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