A little background, I did classical ballet growing up and went to a boarding high school so I could dance three plus hours a day plus rehearsals. During my ballet years, which began at age five, I performed in countless productions of the Nutcracker, seriously I have tried to figure out how many and settled on it was just a lot! In addition, I was an assistant to our ballet mistress and helped with rehearsals for the little dancers in the production, which included acting out roles I had never been cast in so they would have an idea of what to expect. While amazing and fun (usually) after so many years of production I had no interest in seeing the Nutcracker performed I thought ever again!
Fast forward to having children of my own and having set a personal goal to expose them to theater, dance, and music of all kinds and well I realized the Nutcracker is a great first ballet experience. So, this year, I put my own desires or lack thereof aside and took my almost five-year-old son to see one of our local productions of the Nutcracker. In addition to supporting a local arts program and venue, we were able to see five of our friends perform as well, an added bonus.
Before the show, we listened to the musical score several times and I told him the story and read him books of the Nutcracker story to make him familiar with what was to happen. As the music teacher at our educational cooperative group, I presented the Nutcracker to his class and we made popsicle stick puppets that could “dance” along with the music. In addition, I let him help choose where our seats would be in the theater. He is a balcony guy where he can see everything easily and it is not as loud and like his father he prefers to sit on the aisle.
On the day of the show, we walked into the lobby of theater where they had beautiful displays of you guessed it nutcrackers. Here I quickly realized he didn’t actually know what a nutcracker was! He had seen pictures of them but never actually seen a nutcracker in real life nor did he know how they worked. Mom fail! We found some nutcrackers that we could hold and I showed him how they moved and what they were originally used for, explaining that these nutcrackers were for decoration. The whole cracking a nut thing was a bit baffling to him because I am allergic to nuts so they have never been in our home.
I anticipated a lot of potential reactions from my son. I knew he would ask questions and at times be confused, let’s face it the Nutcracker storyline is a bit trippy. I even expected boredom. But the things that I didn’t expect made me laugh out loud in the theater. I was lucky that the gentleman sitting beside us was amused rather than angry at our ongoing commentary…so many questions!
I thought I had thought a lot about the Nutcracker after so many years involved with it. I learned many facts about its history including obscure things like that a portion of the score was written the way it was written on a dare. I even wrote an essay that got me a pretty nice scholarship in college expounding upon the Nutcracker as a microcosm of society. But never have I pondered the nuances of the Nutcracker the way my son did!
This version opened with the street scene and people walking and snow was falling. “Momma is the snow real or pretend?” Pretend. “Oh, good that would be cold because they are wearing slippers.” Those are ballet shoes. “Oh.” Then Drosselmeyer appeared with a large nutcracker. “Why is that nutcracker so big? Why is that guy the only one carrying anything?” He’s going to a Christmas party and bringing a gift. I guess no one else brought a gift.
On to the scene where Fritz bothers Clara and ultimately breaks her nutcracker. “Why are the grown-ups just shaking their fingers at him? If they don’t talk to him he is never going to understand why he should not do that and he is just going to keep doing it and she is going to keep getting upset.” Well this is a ballet so there is no talking. Maybe shaking their fingers represents them having a conversation. “Well they need to try harder because he clearly is not understanding.”
“Why is she getting out of bed and not finding her parents?” She wants to check on her nutcracker. “She should find her parents.” Maybe she will? Then the mice come out. So many mice! “Why are there so many mice dancing around?” Well the story takes place in 1894 so they weren’t so good at pest control and mice lived in the walls. “They should have a cat. Or maybe a lot of cats. That would help with the mice.” At this point the gentleman next to us laughed outside and said this was the best Nutcracker experience he’d ever had.
The questions continued. “Why are there soldiers on horses? How did the horses get into the house?” They are toy soldiers and toy horses and they just came to life in her dream. “Oh, right she’s having a dream. This is confusing, I dream in my bed. She should stay in her bed if she is having a dream.”
“What did she throw at the Mouse King?” Her shoe. “How is she going to get her shoe back? She is going to be so sad if she lost her shoe.” About this time a unicorn appears on the stage pulling a flying sleigh so shock and awe ensued followed by many many questions about the unicorn (as in a real-life horse in costume) and the sleigh and theatrics and again is this real or pretend.
At this point Clara and the Nutcracker costumed man were replaced by an older Clara and Prince – the confusion about this did not end. “How did they change? Why are they taller? What happened to his head?” Clara is dreaming that she is an older girl and her nutcracker turned into a Prince. “Are those snowflakes? Why are they dancing around?” Yes, they are dancing because sometimes when snow falls it looks like it is dancing. “Can we go see snow?” Some day. “I want to watch and see if it dances!” Intermission! Whew!
Act II opened with angels who introduced the audience to butterflies and a hornet. “Is this still a dream for her? Why is she dreaming about angels? Is God there? How do the angels know the butterflies?” Remember she is having a dream and sometimes weird things happen in our dreams. The storyline returned to the more traditional land of the sweets from different nations along with the waltz of the flowers. The questions continued until the curtain dropped.
So the big question was, did he enjoy it? “Yes,” he said, “it was neat, maybe we can come again next year.” Would you ever think about auditioning to be in it? ” Maybe but I don’t want to decide right now.” You’ve got it kiddo, you’ve got it.
Murphy Benet is the mother of two boys, four and a half and one and a half, who both have FPIES. She is in the process of getting her family started in the adventure of homeschooling using the Montessori method. She and her husband live in Melbourne, Florida – just miles from the beach that she doesn’t get to visit nearly often enough.
If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to subscribe to our email list to get more blogs like this straight to your inbox and receive a free printout of “Mom Mantras” that will inspire you throughout your day.