Come Christmastime, like many people I crank up Pandora on the Christmas stations. I like to listen to the old classics, the carols, and the classical holiday music. But that last one I only do sparingly. See, that one comes with a little risk. They might play Nutcracker music. And Nutcracker music instantly swirls me into memories.
Oh, God, it came on just now, as I'm typing this.
I first saw Nutcracker performed by the Sacramento Ballet Company when I was 8. I'd taken little kid ballet in L.A., but nothing serious. It didn't matter. I told my mother I WOULD be in that ballet. I started lessons at a local studio the next year. I worked hard, I learned. I tried out for the show in Sacramento when I was 9, and didn't get a part.
I tried out again when I was 10, and I did. One of the easiest parts in the show--Marshmallow Child, 2nd cast. (There was a definite pecking order for casts.) But only 2 years after my declaration, I'd done it. I was thrilled.
I worked harder.
The next year I got in again, as one of the party children in the first act. 2nd cast. That year, for Christmas, I got regular lessons at the Sacramento ballet school, instead of the local school. It meant a 40-minute commute, and at first it was only a couple days a week. But I was serious now. Nutcracker auditions were in September, and from that point until December rehearsals got progressively more demanding. We did 2 full weeks of shows at Christmas, and I had to take off school. My whole class did a field trip once to come see me.
The next year, as a Sacramento Ballet school student, I got a party child part again--1st cast. And a lamb in the Sheperdess dance. I started taking more classes. By the end of that year I think I was up to 5 days a week, maybe 6. I tried out for the apprentice company, and I got in.
The next year, 1984, I got to be Clara.
If you don't know the show, Clara is the lead. She's in nearly every scene, at least on stage watching. She gets to be on stage entirely alone during the most magical part, when the Christmas tree grows. It's an amazing opportunity, and I was ecstatic. I had to share with two other Claras--I was 3rd cast--but it didn't matter. I was freaking CLARA. When I wasn't doing that part, I was also a flower, and a soldier in the battle scene.
The next year I was in the full company. I was dying to be Clara again, but our director said it was time for other kids to have a turn. I was going to classes 6 days a week now, three hours at least on weekdays and all day on Saturday. But I was also starting to get injuries. I had Achilles tendonitis, and shin splints. Politics at the studio were insane, and the driving time was ridiculous, and my parents were getting a divorce. I was starting to be unhappy. I was 15. I got Chinese ( a very good part), and a snowflake, and a flower again.
And the next year, when I was 16, I made the decision, with my mom, to stop.
I was immensely relieved. My injuries weren't getting better, and with my body type (really small, in case you're wondering--I'm 5'3"), it would be a very tough go for me to be a dancer professionally. I did acting at school instead, and went away to university, and discovered writing, and all turned out well. It was the right decision.
Except for when I hear Nutcracker music, and it kills me.
It's funny, because I LOVE Nutcracker, still. I know every beat of every part of that music. I remember almost all the dances I did, for all the parts. I remember with vivid clarity being on stage as Clara, during a matinee performance, when one of the huge mice was sneaking out behind me and a child from the audience yelled "Watch out, Clara!" I remember paper snow sticking in my false eyelashes, and that tremendous swell of joy as the Christmas tree grew and I held up my candle to it.
But it hurts, too. I'm not sure why--I guess because it's part of the past, and I loved it so and it's over. Has been for many years. I don't regret the choice, but I miss it. And the music--that much beloved music--brings me back. Makes me feel it all, remember it all, just by listening.
I think I *might* be getting to the point where it hurts less than it pleases, though. Where the good memories win out over the loss, and I can be purely glad that it happened. I have my Nutcrackers--I got one as a gift every year--out in a row at home, and my daughter, who is 9, loves them.
Maybe I should go listen to it again.