Nutcracker, 2022

My intentions were to write one post for each weekend, full of all the little details I love to remember and hate to forget so I could go back on them in the future and remember this year of shows, but clearly that didn’t happen.

In truth, I was a bit afraid there for a bit that I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to write at all this year. That fact alone broke my heart to even consider. I decided, instead, not to force it and hope that time would relieve me of the block that was forming and allow me to have a post full of those happy little details, and one I actually want to look back on. Thankfully, that is what happened, and thankfully, that will be the majority of this post.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least reference what caused the shift in intentions last weekend. Turns out, it’s my own humanity. This is my first year actually working for the ballet, and while I had a general idea of much of what goes on, I didn’t fully know the execution. Most of it was fairly cut and dry on how to go about it all and make it happen, but there were a few things with which I didn’t really know what to expect.

Add into that mix the fact the internet went out the week things were beginning to come due, causing us to not have access to internet, phones, printing tickets, credit card machines, or our regular printer, all of which we eventually found clunky work-arounds to except for the phones, but not until I was already an entire weekend worth of turn ins behind and learning I put the wrong due date on a form.

Because of this, I put in extra hours to catch up, on occasion working nearly 80 hour weeks between my two jobs. If you’ve been here any length of time, you’ll know I’m chronically ill. If you’ve been here since the “before” times, you’ll know I had to quit my previous full time job because it was too much to handle with my health issues. Thankfully, I was able to manage decently enough health-wise, largely due to the help I had from volunteers, but I found myself heading home after long days with no memory of what I had done. I couldn’t recall the details, the brain fog settling so deeply I was basically going off muscle memory, relying on logs to keep the record my brain wasn’t able to do. It was frustrating and at times scary, not to mention setting off my newly diagnosed OCD since I felt I didn’t have the control over the situation considering I can’t do too much about what my body does when I’m pushing it to it’s limits.

And, of course, errors were made. They weren’t brought to my attention in ugly or hateful ways, the people were by and large extremely kind about it, or at least civil. By the point that happened on Saturday, I was at a breaking point I hadn’t even realized I was reaching. It wasn’t until I sat next to two of my friends who asked how I was that my throat tightened and my eyes betrayed me. I’m not one to cry, but once the dam broke I couldn’t seem to get it to stop. Then, my brain started to do a number on me, telling me all those things I was afraid of happening, happening, were because I was a failure, blah blah blah.

Thankfully, in all this, I’ve had wonderful people around me. I work for a company that doesn’t berate me or even blame me for what happened. Their concern is rectifying with apology and moving forward, learning from our mistakes and doing better next time. They understand we are humans and humans are flawed and that mistakes happen. I kept expecting to be chastised and verbally beat over the head like I had been at previous places of employment, but that never happened here.

When I first started teaching classes however many years ago, I was struck by how well I was treated there. It was teaching that showed me the standard I should hold for myself and gave me the boldness to leave former places of employment that weren’t at the level of how I deserve to be treated. And now, I’m finding the same is true on this side of things. To say I’m grateful is an understatement.

I also had an army of dance moms at my side, a choice few in an inner circle, gathering around me to support me and help pull me out of the spiral my brain began to take before it got too bad. Even as I was still allowing time to run it’s course and bring me back to the place of being “okay,” I was constantly floored by the kindness I was met with. The people we have here currently are gems, and I’m grateful to be among them.

Alright, so now that’s out of the way, lets get on to the many, many wonderful things this year brought. Considering this post is already this long, brace yourself for quite the lengthy continuation, though I’m sure some details will be forgotten since I waited. That’s okay.

When it came to school shows, I was working off a contact list that was from the “before times” of 2019. I did my best to update it, but wasn’t quite sure who to contact about reserving spots for the two performances. For a moment, there was even consideration to only have one show. However, the risk of having two shows proved worth it as the first was completely maxed out and the second was over half sold. The members of administration I worked with were absolutely lovely, making this learning experience a delightful one. They were also very understanding of all the complications with the prolonged internet outage.

School shows are my favorite, as they tend to be packed out, and the kids are so responsive, laughing and clapping and gasping at all the right times. Sometimes you’ll hear a comment from the audience that just makes your heart swell as you know they’re completely immersed in what’s happening on stage. Everyone danced so incredibly well, and starting out the season with such responsive audiences did much to boost our confidence and I stood back and watched as the kids in our scene came alive as we went through what we’ve rehearsed for countless hours at the studio over the weeks in the lead up. The two Clara’s danced beautifully, clearly enjoying every moment of their dreams being realized, dancing the role they’ve hoped they’d one day have the opportunity to embody.

The first Saturday’s show was a great full show kick off. Lauren, the youngest of the Clara’s, went on stage like a seasoned professional, hitting every step and giving such wonderful facial expressions and characterizations sometimes I forgot this is a role I’ve done and watched from this same spot for, what, six years now? She embodied the role in a way that set the tone for a fantastic run, truly becoming Clara and not just going through the motions of a role she’s been tasked with. It was a joy to watch.

The first Sunday’s show was also a knock out, extra impressive when you add in all the quirks that seemed to try and plague it. For starters, the air wasn’t set at the right temperature and backstage was absolutely sweltering, making the dancers make adjustments to handle it, causing particular issues with those dancers with asthma who navigated it all with grace and boldness to where no one was the wiser that anything could possible be amiss.

Sophia danced beautifully, even navigating an issue with the sleigh without skipping a beat where other dancers may let the unexpected change get the best of them. She opened second act on the sleigh, and as they brought it around something happened with the mechanics of it and she had to go back on without it, something they’ve never practiced or ran through, with about 15 seconds warning. You wouldn’t know if you didn’t know that anything was other than it should be. Sophia is a dancer I’ve known since she was a party girl, and gotten to know well since last year. I’m so proud of her for all she’s accomplished and all she’s endured to get to this point in her dancing, absolutely beaming backstage as I watched on second act like a proud aunt or something.

Second weekend of shows brings in the live orchestra, with only one of the two Clara’s being able to rehearse with them. McKenna, the one without the rehearsal, opened us up on Saturday with one of the best performances I’ve seen. Everyone seemed to be on their A-game, and the audience was the best show audience we’ve had in recent memory. They laughed, they gasped, they applauded at all the perfect times, boosting all of our confidences on stage. McKenna is a dancer I’ve known since she was itty bitty and a former assistant of mine when I was still teaching. Her older sister, Kaelin, was a Clara back, I believe, five years ago, and when Covid shut everything down in 2019 I was hopeful she wouldn’t get passed over. Then last year she found herself out with an injury and we all hoped taking the time to step back and recover would mean she would come back stronger. That’s exactly what she did, and watching her finally after so many delays and drawbacks dance this role she’s dreamed of was something that lead me to tears. She was so incredibly beautiful that I was covered in goosebumps any time I’d watch her in party scene, and absolutely speechless backstage during second act. Then, seeing her older sister Kaelin as lead Spanish, and her younger sister Cassidy as a Lilac, dancing with her and hugging her after the curtain drop, you’d be hard pressed to find a dry eye; their sibling bond one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed. The entire family is absolutely lovely, and I’m so grateful to know them and watch the girls grow. To say I’m proud is an understatement.

Last night, at our last show, Kara was our Clara. Having recently moved from Austin to Corpus last year, she made the wise decision to audition for our spring show, Sleeping Beauty, where she could get a feel for how things run here and get to know some of the people. An absolute delight, we ended up being in scenes together and even next to each other for a big chunk of it, which I’m grateful for. I remember her asking about Nutcracker auditions and if it would be too late for her to try for Clara. I told her no, and to make sure she had great expression (which I had no doubt she would since she was so expressive in the spring show.) When cast list came out I was so thrilled for her, and even more so watching her dance her heart out this weekend. Orchestra weekend is often the most challenging since we usually rehearse to a recording and the timing difference of live music can throw some dancers off, however Kara handled it like a seasoned pro, giving the other dancers a great leader to follow in their dancing. She was absolutely beautiful, her dancing exquisite, and I’m so glad that she has joined our company as she truly is a wonderful human as well.

It wouldn’t be live “theater” without the occasional happenings to cause adjustment to make sure the show must go on. First weekend didn’t have too many, besides the sleigh mishap, but second weekend made up for it. First, our Clara’s Mother ended up testing positive for Covid on Friday, our first day back at rehearsals. She got it from her husband, who tested positive earlier in the week, so there wasn’t an immense risk to the company or the fear she picked it up from someone there and she’s recovering well. We did a bit of party parent cast shifting, as one Party Mom became Clara’s Mom, and we recruited one of our teachers whose done the role a few years ago. Then, our Auntie ended up sick, so her daughter, who was a Maid, jumped in to fill the role. On top of all the party scene changes, we had a Polichinelle end up sick, so my love Lilly, who was unable to audition due to an injury but has been recovering well, jumped in. It was, of course, the smallest Polichinelle, and thankfully Lilly, who is super tall, fit the costume, so it worked out well. Lilly is a Maid and she’s also the Nutcracker that salutes at the end, but being able to actually dance for a show was so fulfilling. I was incredibly proud of her. Jumping in to a role you haven’t done in a couple years, at the extreme last minute, and doing it so well is quite impressive. There was also a Mouse who,

We also had other dancers enduring unimaginable things, yet still finding the mental strength to endure through the shows, even when it was extremely difficult to do. I’m so proud of these dancers, more than I have words for.

I’ve done party scene for longer now than I danced in the corps de ballet, which is a wild concept. I only did three Nutcracker’s in the corps, but I have done four years as party parent. It would have been five had Covid not, ya know, done what it did. When I realized I had been a party mom so many years now, it blew my mind a bit. Time is wild, y’all.

This group of party kids were my favorite. Usually you have a mixed bag of kids that are super fun and kids that are more nervous or just stoic, but this year every single one of them was out there having the time of their lives. Our party kids brought their own characters into it, which made it easier and more fun to act alongside them for such a long scene, adding in little quips we’ve never thought to add before but I’m sure will carry on now. And, of course, we do the macarena during the overture to help with the nerves. Now we’ve gotten to the point where former party girls are Clara’s, so they joined in each night, as well as other dancers who were backstage. It’s my favorite tradition we do. McKenna even told me that joining in helped her keep the nerves at bay before her Clara night, which made me so happy. Last night we even had some of the Soldiers joining in on the other side of the stage, such a fun sight to see all of us connected in this thing across all the different roles and levels.

This was also the most fun I’ve had in party scene as a whole. I don’t even know what made it so much better this year, but I found myself genuinely laughing most of the time at one thing or another, enjoying every second we’re up there.

Behind the scenes, I got to help a lot more than usual. It brought an extra layer of joy to my heart, especially after the rocky start I had mentally, to be able to jump in and help this department or that department. When I started dancing eleven (goodness) years ago, I was nervous as heck, feeling like there wasn’t really a place for me. I fought that fear and kept going anyway, finding myself with opportunities I never expected, including dancing for a pre-professional company. Right as I was starting to feel like maybe I’d somehow found a place for myself, I had to give it up because of my health. Thankfully, able to do it in doses instead of all at once, I held on to doing The Nutcracker, partially out of stubbornness. Then, when our Drosselmeyer died, I was prepared to give it all up, until two of my “babies” convinced me (with a simple, “Are you going to do party parent this year?”) to keep going last year. And now, here I am, working for the ballet company that took me in those years ago and gave me a place to belong, working among such wonderful people, meeting such lovely dancers and dance parents, getting to be a part of this beautiful world I fell in love with so long ago and had been made to give up. I never would have guessed it would find a way to draw me back in, and especially not to this caliber, but I couldn’t be more grateful than I already am.

I’ve gotten to know a few of the dance moms really well this season, which has made my heart extremely happy. The kindness I have been met with has been overwhelming in the best way, I’m almost in a state of shock by it all, not entirely certain what to do with it. But even when I get awkward in my adjustment to such kindness, I’m met with more kindness. Who knew places like this existed?

I know there will be challenges along the way, as I’ve already seen, but I also know that those challenges are ones worth facing, and that I’m safe here.

Overall, this Nutcracker season has been one for the books. I hope I never forget the look of joy on the kids faces, the way the conductor looks when I peek out from the curtains, the way I feel when we’re all having so much fun on stage, the exhilaration of seeing former dancers visit while in town, the feel of the tiny arms wrapping around my middle in many, many hugs–especially as these dancers grow. This is my favorite part of the holiday season, and I’m so grateful to still get to be a part of it.

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