Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holiday Mistakes and Mastery

Sometimes December can feel like running a three ring circus as the stage lights slowly dim.  Five different things are going on at the same time, right as the theatre is about to go dark--there is a frenzy combined with exhaustion that is unique to this time of year.

This year I happen to be feeling it more than usual.  Work is drawing my time away from house and home.  The children are in three different schools.  The rain has finally returned, adding more mess and more chaos, and even more desire to snuggle down into bed or fill up a hot bath.

And after ten good years, our snow globe yard decoration 

has lost its steam.

Oh dear.

I feel like that myself a couple of times a day this month, and yet I am happy.

Two weeks ago I had the chance to chaperone my middle daughter's Brownie troop at the Girlscout Nutcracker workshop and performance down in San Jose.  And if I'm being honest, I did not start off the day with the best attitude.  First of all, the event took all day--all of a pre-Christmas, weekend day in December.  So there was that.  And then there was the fact that I was dubious about the performance I was going to have to sit through.  I was thinking--if I have to sit still on a pre-Christmas Sunday in December, I want to see the "real" Nutcracker, the one in San Francisco.  And then there were the logistics of ushering nearly twenty little ones for the day: lunches, bathroom trips, lost coats, you've been there.  So I was feeling a little grinchy.

But here's what happened.  As part of the workshop, we got a back stage tour of the San Jose Dance Theatre's Nutcracker performance, the longest running community based Nutcracker performance in the Bay Area.  We looked so closely at the staging you could see the brush strokes of the volunteers brushes.  We watched some of the performers, none professional dancers, practice on barre before the performance.  We listened to presentation by Girlscouts who gave us tastes of real sugar plums.  And we met the handful of moms dressed in black who maintain the army of costumes that a Nutcracker performance requires.  This year, they actually sew one of the dancers into her costume before she goes on stage, and then cut her out of it when it is time to go home for the night.  
And then there was the performance.  

Some dewdrops danced out of step.  The Russian dancers nearly dropped one of their leaping scene mates.  My daughter complained that when Drosselmeyer had his magical flying scene she could see the ropes.  Clara, though, had a brilliant night, as did her young prince.  And the two principals who had been hired to dance the pad de deux at the end of the ballet, they were magical, dancing their parts with the precise mastery that only emerges from long, hard serious training.

By the end, I was in tears, because I got something important for the first time.  The Nutcracker Ballet was written in 1892 by Tchaikovsky as the Christmas recital piece for the Imperial Ballet School of St. Petersburg.  It was intended to be a performance that included a range of dancers and dancing ability.  In the community performance by the San Jose Dance Theatre I experienced the Nutcracker, for the first time, in the way I imagined it was intended--as a performance for an entire community.  I saw how inclusive it was, and how the arc of the ballet led up to the final pas de deux.  I saw, really for the first time, that the Sugar Plum Fairy is Clara's guide to the dancing life, and that Clara's wintery dream is about growing up.  I always knew this about the ballet, but I really felt it in this one.  What I didn't know, what I had never felt before, was the wholeness of it--how fitting the mis-steps of the beginners are in this Christmas performance, and how important it is to the story to have all of it together.

So as we plow into the last week before Christmas, into the final week of the circus and the dimming light, this is what I am holding in my heart--the blessing of wholeness, the chance for even one second to hold the mistakes and the mastery in one hand, the frenzy and the rest, the dark and the light.  I saw it, right there, for a magical moment in the San Jose Dance Theatre's Nutcracker.    

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