Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Nutcracker

Well, with snow falling at a rate of a couple of inches per hour, I think we're safe in saying winter has finally arrived in Southern Maine. The hayfield is a sheet of white outside my window, bounded by a cloud of tiny flakes falling as though they had a deadline to meet. The city snow plow has yet to pass my house, so it's one of those days that makes a person appreciate four-wheel drive.

With New England White Pine burning in the fireplace, my dog happily asleep on his bed, and The Nutcracker streaming from Denver's classical station, KVOD, I'm taken back to a Christmas I'll never forget. My mother's older sister was childless and she always called me her "pert-near son." I've mentioned her before and will again, as the Season progresses. She loved everything about the holidays and her joy and anticipation were contagious.

I was in my late 20s and gratefully recovering from a long-overdue divorce when she decided my present would be tickets to the Colorado Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker. Prior to this, the only time I'd seen it from beginning to end was on television with Mikhail Barishnikov in the lead role. Except for telling me what we were doing that evening, she kept everything else about it a secret.

I didn't care where we sat, simply being there was enough for me, but as the usher led us closer and closer to the stage, the excitement I had been feeling for weeks was growing to epidemic proportions. Turns out, our tickets were for the second row, center stage. We arrived early, long before members of the orchestra appeared, and as they entered and took their seats, I couldn't contain myself. I'd always admired classical musicians, but never had the opportunity to speak with them. I got out of my seat and approached the orchestra pit, feeling as though I was about to pull the ribbon from the "package."

They were wonderful and seemed unaccustomed to being regarded as stars in their own right, though for me, that's precisely what they were. I could easily have spent the entire evening chatting with them, but they had work to do and music to play. There was one, especially, a beautiful oriental girl who was a violinist. Our eyes met and she smiled, then blushed, and my heart warmed.

I don't remember many of the details of the performance itself, but in my mind I can still see the Russian dancer, a mere fifteen feet away, and it felt like I was the only person in the audience. To say it was magic is so inadequate as to be embarrassing, but that's the only word I know that even comes close. At a time in my life when I was coming out of a deep, cold, and barren darkness, that evening was all about hope and rebirth.

My aunt was so smart.

(Photo by the author)
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