Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nutcracker Dreams


This post was inspired by K.Lawson Gilbert's poem "Jo"
Thanks, K!



When I was a girl I took dance lessons. Ballet, tap, jazz. The usual mix. But it was ballet that captured my heart, and "dancer" was one of the first roles added to my self identity.

I took lessons seriously and became competent enough to be invited to join the local company's production of The Nutcracker. As a result, some of my fondest Christmas memories are associated with practices and rehearsals. The Nutcracker Suite is now strongly associated with Christmas in my brain. Just hearing the first few notes of the overture instantly puts me in a "preparing for a holiday party" mood.



And just because this video is entrancing, here is a unique version:



My most special Christmas present ever was the nutcracker that my parents gave me at the end of the closing performance the first year that I danced in the Nutcracker. I spent hours in my room dancing with that wooden soldier as if I were Clara. I still get teary every year when I pull it out of the box where it spends most of the year nestled with my small collection of nutcrackers. I remember feeling disappointed that it had a screw mechanism to crack nuts instead of the usual lever, but now I am glad for its uniqueness.


For several years I danced with the Candy Canes, then I graduated to the Russian Trepak. Here I am, probably at dress rehearsal when Mom could make me pose for the Polaroid.

Hearing those parts of the Nutcracker Suite evokes visceral reactions and sensory memories. The sound of the orchestra, the hushed voices waiting in the wings, the smell of rosin, the swish of tutus as dancers hurried backstage for costume changes. Even today, when I hear the ending notes of the dance of the reed flutes (or "Mirlitons", which preceded the Candy Canes)-- I feel the fluttering in my stomach.

The first notes of the Candy Cane dance or Russian Trepak would sing, and I would be transported-- I was no longer me. My arms and legs knew when to flex, when to stretch. I gracefully moved through the choreography, barely aware of each step as it flowed into the next. Rather, I felt the warmth of the stage lights, noticed the brightness of the costumes blurring by, and of course heard the music which fed my muscles.

I was no longer me-- I was a dancer.

14 comments:

Sarah Hina said...

And in your heart, you still are. No wonder that music is still so evocative and poignant for you. You were a part of it. And it still feeds your nerves and muscles, even if you don't act on it in the same fashion. Your descriptions of its effects on you really shine.

Do you wish you could embrace the music in the same way you did then? To enter that world again with every part of yourself?

I love the photos, btw!! So, so cute (and graceful). :) The videos were a lovely accompaniment. They make me want to drift away, too...

Aine said...

Sarah~ Thanks! :) Yes, I do wish I could dance that way again-- the old joints just aren't as flexible. But when I close my eyes while listening to music, I can still feel the neurons firing (if that makes sense...). The kinesthetic memory is still there-- I can feel dancing in my body without moving my limbs. So, in that way I can still immerse in the music. And watching dancers (especially live) can evoke strong emotions in me. I suppose it is the same for musicians who no longer play their instruments.

Glad you enjoy the photos! They required a bit of photoshop magic to make them brighter. Those old photos just aren't as vibrant as digital... And I searched for my Russian Trepak photo-- the costume was so beautiful... oh well. Perhaps it'll turn up someday.
:)

Vesper said...

I can feel dancing in my body without moving my limbs - it's the same for me, Aine...
I took ballet lessons when I was a child. I still remember it as in a dream. What a magical world it was... is...

Geraldine said...

What a wonderful feel-good post Aine and so timely too. I LOVE, The Nutcracker, have seen it several times and also learned to play much of the music from the play, on the piano. What wonderful memories you have brought to mind. Love your photos too, what a cutie!

Hugs, G

www.mypoeticpath.wordpress.com

jason evans said...

There are worlds we feel beneath of surface of this one. Worlds we desperately wish we could live in. Those memories you have of slipping into yours are true treasures.

I know I have wonderful memories of watching you dance in college. Not the innocence of a child in The Nutcracker. But something just as potent.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Aine - I enjoyed this so much! Thank you for sharing this with all of us. Your descriptions of ballet - the rosin, the waiting in the wings, the russling of tutus, that fluttering of excitement - the brightness of the costumes rushing by - oh so very real and wonderful!! The pictures are sweet, they made me teary eyed.
Blessings, Aine ~K~

Aine said...

Vesper~ Does your dream include "first position, releve, plie, plie, grand plie, point and second position...?"
:)

Geraldine~ Thank you! The music is beautiful, it must be wonderful to play it on a piano.

Jason~ Yes-- there are worlds that live in memories and dreams. And occasionally we can tap into them with the help of a sensory experience that opens the door to that part of our brain. I have several worlds that are significant to me, where I am most the "me" that I want to be. I'm glad we can share them.
:)

Aine said...

Kaye~ You slipped past me while I was commenting...

Thank you, so much! Dancing onstage really is a feast for the senses... the best kind of "high". I'm happy that I captured it in a way that is recognizable to others who've been there.

Catvibe said...

This is such a wonderful memory and made me teary to read. I took dance lessons as a child, but never progressed far, voice and choir was my passion. However, as I read this I could hear the overture in my mind, and it brings back memories of seeing it for the first time at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco when I was 6, my dad brought me then. How wonderful that you had so many years of performing this Christmas 'ritual'. So many of my friends' children are in Nutcracker productions around the country this year.

Aine said...

Catvibe~ I'm so glad this evoked happy memories for you! I'm always in awe of someone with a beautiful voice. That's one gift I was not given, not even a sprinkle (Simon Cowell would have a field day with me!) :)

SzélsőFa said...

Thank you for sharing it with us, Aine - I took up dancing classes, too, but apart from a few occassions I never made it to any stage.
I think I've definitely missed something in my life as I, too, know what it means to dance without moving any physical parts of my body.

Chris Eldin said...

Thanks for sharing these, Aine. The photos and your sentiments are beautiful. It's funny how sharp older memories can sometimes be.
I have a silly picture in my head right now, of graceful you trying to teach Jason to dance. :-) Not that he isn't graceful, but my picture of courtroom Jason doesn't mesh with ballet.
:-)

Aine said...

Szelsofa~ I'm so glad others understand that feeling. I'm thankful that our brains can give us that experience as our bodies age.

Chris~ HA! HA! No, Jason doesn't mesh with ballet. Dance isn't Jason's friend-- he's much more comfortable with verbal expression. I talked him into a ballroom dancing class while we were at college. But that was during the time when he would've done just about anything I asked of him... ;)

Ello said...

You are a dancer! How lovely. And I love these pictures of you! This was such a lovely post. Thanks for sharing it with us!