The Little Nutcracker That Could
Ballet For All Kids was founded in 2008 on the principle that every child deserved the opportunity to learn classical ballet in a traditional, compassionate studio. Our kids set out to study true ballet and after countless hours of practice began to reap the rewards of their hard work as their beautiful dancing began to come through. After that the rest was obvious. Like a bright and beautiful light, all that effort needed a place to shine.
Enter The Nutcracker. The masterpiece that no one liked at first. Hailed by the experts of its time as insipid, amateurish, lopsided, foolish and ponderous, it would eventually go on to outlast them all.
Some statistics about the Nutcracker:
The first performance was on December 17, 1892, but it’s still being performed today. That’s 126 years of shows.
San Francisco Ballet has staged it every year since 1944, without exception. For many, it proves to be the hallmark of the holiday season.
The ballet is so popular, that 40 to 45 percent of many ballet company’s revenue for the entire year is earned from their performance of the show, with ticket sales triple the amount of those sold for any other show.
And Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon has nothing on Nutcracker either, the likes of Ronald Reagan, Shari Lewis and Lambchop, Baryshnikov, The Care Bears, Alexander Dumas, Tim Rice, Barbie, Balanchine, Mickey Mouse, Harley Davidson, Dorothy Hamill, Steve Wozniak, Tony La Russa, and Monty Python making his acquaintance in one form or another over the course of their accomplished lives.
As a tradition, The Nutcracker has been reimagined many times over. There’ve been Swedish, Australian, and American versions. Versions that express the values of the Hip-Hop and LGBTQ+ communities. There’ve been menacing snowflakes, new characters, experimental music, and an entire production influenced by the work of horror-comic artist Charles Burnes. There’s even a TV Show – Battle of the Nutcrackers – giving viewers the chance to vote for their favorite rendition of the beloved ballet. Yet each iteration seems to share the same spirit at its core.
How is that possible, and just what is it?
I must confess I have no idea. But I can tell you what it means to me.
Two years ago when our little dance troupe decided to show the world what we could do, we began to stage our own interpretation of The Nutcracker. It was a true first, an integrated production of The Nutcracker, and the challenges were many. Fears, phobias, specific needs, an adaptive backstage. Truly no way to know how it would turn out. And at a certain point there was truly no way to turn back.
And then the day before the show the true spirit of the Nutcracker arrived. Checking the ticket sales on the Internet we noticed that all the sold seats showed up in such a way that they made the head of a giant nutcracker. It looked just like our poster. Superstitious, perhaps. Kooky, I don’t know. But it was there plain as day and with that vote of confidence we took each other’s hands and together leaped into our audience’s arms.
It was truly a magical night for me. It was about cooperating and including and all the stubborn complexities that came with that handshake. It was about strengths and weakness, the observed ones and the ones that were harder to see because they’d been over come. It was about all of us being the prima ballerina together, not alone — and that went for all our gallant ballerinos, too! It was about not judging a book by its cover because who could see the filling in a Godiva (and when they could who could say which was better, the outside or the inside). It was about all those things and more. And for one small moment no one was thinking about all the things we didn’t have in common anymore but the one thing that we did — our beautiful human spirit.
So to answer that question about the true spirit of the Nutcracker, I turn to the Nutcracker himself. He’s standing with a scowl at the back of my desk telling me he has a confession to make. He says that sometimes when he cracks a nut he loses the kernel. Plop, it just falls to the ground and no one can eat it after that.
But, he adds, sometimes something amazing happens. He says sometimes a little sapling grows where the kernel fell. He says that’s when losing the kernel isn’t losing the kernel anymore. He says he’s kind of like that.
Traditionally in the darkest time of the year, we celebrated the return of the light. With so many shadowy things around us sometimes it’s easy to forget it’s there. Surrounded by all these incidents and events that attempt to devalue the human spirit, attempt to make us believe there’s nothing untouchable left in the world, we reassert the worth of our humanness and whisper the simple truth that kindness, no matter how fragile and paper-thin it looks, still matters.
At the top of the week, we received news that our 2018 show would be canceled due to unsafe conditions from the CA fires. (Oh, how many terrible kernels have fallen to the ground lately.) But because of the kindness and hard work of so many different people we are here today, together, beginning again, and I can’t help but think the Nutcracker has somehow shown up again to give us his blessing.
Traditionally Nutcrackers stood for good luck and protection. With their gaze turned resolutely toward the dark, with their teeth bared defiantly toward the shadows, they stood steadfast, ready to protect those they loved from whatever might come their way.
It is my sincere hope that in our own small way, our presentation of the Nutcracker will give you all these things and more. Because, in the end, at least for me, that’s what the true spirit of the Nutcracker is anyway.
Kindness. Heart. Hope.
The very same things that make the holiday season so special, too.
Ms. Bonnie & the little dance troupe that could
UPDATE: Check out this video story! Our amazing LA community came together in a time of crisis to ensure that our hard-working students would still get to perform on stage in the world’s only inclusive Nutcracker that was almost threatened by the CA fires. We are incredible grateful for this support.