There are three more chances to see the North Star Ballet’s Nutcracker this weekend. Today at 2 and 8 and tomorrow (Sunday) at 2 in Hering Auditorium.
I have been watching the dancers of North Star Ballet for twenty-five years, since the afternoon my son, then seven, insisted that he go to the audition, and Norman, then and still artistic director, looked at him and said, “Well, you’re kind of small but we can find a place for you,” and assigned him the role of boy cherub, trailing behind the Sugar Plum Fairy as she made her entrance onstage.
I’ll be going tonight and tomorrow afternoon, watching another set of girls swoop through the beautiful snow scene or dance crisply through the Marzipan. Nutcracker season is when those who follow our ballet can see the developing potential in the North Star dancers. A girl who was a gawky soldier one year becomes a graceful snowflake the next. The girls in Marzipan sparkle their way to Snow Fairy or Dew Drop. And always, there’s the dazzling Sugar Plum, the one whose dance characterizes the ballet and forms an apotheosis in her pas de deux with her Cavalier.
We’ve been having Nutcracker weather, too, the past few days—a warming trend bringing fat flakes of snow falling like pillow down through the dark light. We’re heading to the darkest days: sunrise at 10:19 and sunset at 3:01 yesterday, the morning and afternoon a long twilight, tinged with pinks and oranges, and a slaty light in the evening sky. We’re eating more chocolate and oranges now, and driving at slower speeds. If it weren’t for the toad, work, as Phillip Larkin once said, we’d all be sleeping most of the time, or sitting in a comfy chair curled around warm coffee or tea.
Except for small community that forms around the ballet every fall—a hundred parents and volunteers bustling backstage painting on Mouse and Soldier makeup, tying Cherub pinafores and Party Boy ties. The older dancers are lining up on stage for warmup as I write this, stretching on the barre, getting ready for plies and tendus, stripping away sweats and leg warmers as their muscles begin to loosen under the stage lights. There will be notes after warmup, then they will bustle off to the crowded dressing room to be ready to be Party Parents, or Snowflakes in the first act.
I never get enough of it. Sitting in the dark auditorium with my neighbors and friends and all the four-year-olds with tiaras on their heads and dazzled eyes and all that luscious music filling the space around us, I can feel the year turn and a sweet nostalgia for each minute that passes. The dancers are so beautiful on stage, so mature in the gesture and posture of the dance; the moments are so fleeting, like Clara’s childhood entering the Land of Sweets. I don’t even try to fight the tears that always come.
After this weekend, I’ll be ready for the season, the deep dark, the warmth that endures through friendships and holiday meals shared, the slowly returning light, just a few weeks away.