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Glimpses #12: Tabula Rasa

My four grandchildren having aged out of childhood, I invited a dear friend’s marvelous granddaughter—let’s call her Sarah—to my annual viewing of Balanchine’s Nutcracker, as rendered, 58 years after its creation, by the first company to dance it, the New York City Ballet.  There’s little more wonderful than being an old hand at something and sharing it with a person for whom it’s entirely new—and enticing.  Sarah is one of those marvelous creatures on whom, as they say, nothing is lost.

Sarah’s mother had kindly briefed this bright and beautiful six-year old, who was handed over to me fully in command of the story and not a bit puzzled by the fact that the performers didn’t speak.  It’s true, of course, that Tiler Peck, as Dewdrop, is an icon of eloquence, and I’m glad that my young guest saw at least one artist of Peck’s extraordinary caliber.  The entire performance was the best rehearsed I’ve seen in decades of watching City Ballet’s “Nuts.”  There’s a great deal to be said for that sort of “pedestrian” accomplishment.

© 2012 Tobi Tobias


  1. My little guest was transfixed by the waltz of the flowers as well. Her little hands kept fluttering involuntarily to the music. How could anyone not be moved by Tiler Peck’s impulsive, bubbling-brook interpretation? And Megan Fairchild is such a warm Sugarplum. Profound stuff.

  2. Brava, Sarah’s mom! A friend complains that the story ballets presented by Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle are ruined for her by the adults in the audience talking their way through them for the sake of the children.

  3. Barbara Palfy says

    Perhaps this season IS the time to revisit Balanchine’s Nuts after a three-decade hiatus. The experience would be enhanced, as you point out, if I can find a “newbie.” Other productions of the ballet dappled the interim, but none to match.

  4. One of the great pleasures of accumulating grandchildren is taking them to their first live performances. Ours have been rapt by productions of The Nutcracker, Balanchine’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and even Peter Martins’ Magic Flute. The only problem resulted from their partly becoming acquainted with some of these works on video–in general a fine thing, but at the end of one grandson’s first live viewing of Midsummer, he started crying because he wanted to see the whole thing again–immediately!

    • “Accumulating grandcildren.” I’m charmed by the way you put it. I have 4. Thank you for your own story about the one who cried when the live experience couldn’t be repeated. A boy after my own heart!

      Decades ago, when I took my then 4 year old daughter to ABT’S Swan Lake, we strolled through the theater’s lobby during the intermission and I pointed out a ballerina–in street clothes, of course–telling my daughter that the woman was called Cynthia Gregory and that she would be dancing the Queen of the Swans at another performance. Astonished, my daughter said, “You mean they’re real?”

  5. Julia Prospero says

    I had not been so fortunate, 36 years ago. Especially for a hardcore balletomane. It was an experience carved in my mind, fortunately not in my daughter’s. My daughter was invited to her first Nutcracker by her nursery schoolmate’s parents, (my first mistake). I should have insisted that she’d be introduced to any major performance by her ballet-loving mother. Live and learn! Unfortunately the little friend’s mother could not go; instead the father took them.

    My daughter being 4 years old at the time, she had never experienced any large performance in a large, dark theater. She completely freak out! She could not stop crying when the mouse appeared on stage. I was called immediately and had to retrieve this upset tearing child from her first experience at NYCB’s Nutcracker. I thought she would hate ballet forever.

    My guilt was boundless. Fortunately she learned to love the ballet. When she was five, we took her to see Royal Ballet’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and fell in love.

  6. You get very lush photos, I must say, and they seem to me to be of a superior quality to what I remember from my time seeing dance in NYC some 30 yrs. ago. A lot of dance companies were pretty poor then, too. Some people make the case that poverty inspires excellence, but I’m unconvinced. Poverty is a major cause of burn-out in what I think of as a burn-out profession. The idea of it being like a refiner’s fire burning out the dross strikes me as callous. That’s why I liked your remark on the persistence of dancers in your Lubovitch review.

    Yes, dance is a visual media and words alone … I think of Arlene Croce reviews that seemed like gobbledygook to me until I’d seen what she was talking about and then it made sense. And speaking of Ms. Croce, one of the qualities about your work that I especially enjoy after all these years, is that you are critical without being cranky. Many thanks and happy holidays.

    I do so miss seeing Balanchine’s Nutcracker. Seeing it on video is more like reliving a memory than seeing the real thing. Especially, I hate when they push the sets closer for the sake of the camera. Grrr. I saw the PNB Nutcracker once and never again. Way too dull by comparison. Sigh.

    • Paul Kolnik takes almost all of the in-performance photos of the New York City Ballet. He is a fine dance photographer. You might also have a look at Martha Swope’s City Ballet photos of earlier years; she was especially good at capturing dancers in motion.

  7. Martha Ullman West says

    Should Daria W. be in the neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, I saw a performance of Balanchine’s Nutcracker by Oregon Ballet Theatre last night that knocked my socks off. The dancers, all of them, were excellent, a few were transcendent, particularly Alison Roper dancing Dewdrop as if any minute she might melt. There are 11 more performances to be seen through the 23rd. Like the performance TT saw at the theater formerly known as the New York State, it was extremely well rehearsed. But I caution, the sets are less than great.

    • Well, much as I love great stagecraft, while Pacific Northwest Ballet’s mounting of The Nutcracker has wonderful sets, by Maurice Sendak, for me, this is not enough to save the production. Perhaps in the future, I’ll try for Portland.

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