This was not part of the programme we were handed as children. Bedtime stories did not cover life; just enchantments, heroism, love triumphant. We made our plans accordingly. Those, since, have been often altered, the only constants being change and time itself. And the phrase ‘once upon a time.’
Photo by Rainer Stropek on Flickr
Once upon a time, a mother took her two daughters to their first ballet: The Nutcracker. It was Christmas and there was, the eldest recalls, a grand chandelier. The largest she had ever seen. A million crystals scintillating. Rainbows ricocheting off the fine gold motifs lining the walls of the foyer.
Her hair in a bun. Her sister’s as well, wisps rebelliously falling free. A navy blue velvet dress. A deep forest green one. Both backs straight against their seats. The curtains parted. The lights dimmed. The girls were transported to another place.
Uncle Drosselmeyer, mysterious magician, brought Clara’s nutcracker to life. The brave little girl saved him - with her slipper! - from the malicious King of Mice. The red coated hero then whisked her off to an enchanted kingdom. A King and Queen of Snow, a Sugar Plum Fairy, flakes of cotton and glitter snowing.
Tchaikovsky for the first time in their lives. The strings, harp, delicate bells. By the end of Act I, good had won. By Act II, a visual and auditory feast of feathers, rhinestones, tulle, waltzes, and boleros, grand ensembles and pas de deuxs.
The story ended as the programme promised: well. Hopeful. On Christmas day. The mother, daughters, and crowd left delighted. Then life happened for a year.
In it, time, undramatic, inevitable, dried expectation into reality. It tasted chalky, like chocolate left open too long on the kitchen counter. By the time Christmas and The Nutcracker reappeared on the programme, enchantment had worn off. Still, the mother took her daughters to the ballet again.
They were too old by then for matching dresses and for ballerina buns. The eldest does not remember the foyer, a grand staircase, or the excitement. But then the crimson curtains were parted and the nutcracker, brought to life. The strings, harp, and bells played their magic. The audience was mesmerized.
Courage overcame the King of Mice once again. The Snow Kingdom reappeared. The Sugar Plum Fairy and her nymphs waltzed. It snowed. It ended well. The crowd cheered.
And December was less dark and cold when they later left the theatre.
‘There is no love of life without despair of life.’ And there is no programme. Never was. Tonight, it is, once again and years later, dark and cold and stormy outside. But that is all right; we will simply stay indoors, drink hot chocolate and know ‘that the sky will last longer than we,’ and that only the green of fir trees is constant, and fairytale endings.
The serenity to accept what is, the courage to change what can be, the wisdom to know the difference and still see and hear beauty in Tchaikovsky. And once upon a future time, some Christmas, take a daughter to her first ballet. The Nutcracker of course, in December. And as the curtains part, watch her face.