We’ve only lived in California for a few years so we don’t have many traditions here. We’re slowly building up a list of our favorite yearly events and productions and Festival Ballet Theater’s The Nutcracker is on the top of that list. It is quickly becoming a family tradition. Usually, I go with Darren and watch in peaceful silence as some of the most graceful dancers I’ve ever seen with my own eyes perform on stage. This year, I decided to bring Athena and see if she could handle a full production. She’d already been to Disney On Ice and A Snow White Christmas in the last two weeks and she loved both productions. The Nutcracker was equally successful and I can’t imagine going without her anymore. I always envisioned attending performances with my little girl. Now that it’s a reality, I’m feeling grateful and full of holiday spirit.
We arrived 45 minutes before the show began. We walked around and looked at the sale items when Athena noticed a human-sized Nutcracker standing near the theater entrance. She ran up to it and started to sing as she spun around holding its arm. Her pink dress, carefully chosen because of its twirl abilities, was flowing beautifully as she asked The Nutcracker to spin her. She chatted with him like he was alive. One of the ushers noticed her and immediately came over to say hello and see the “beautiful princess”. He told us that there was a photo opportunity up stairs and we walked up to check it out.
A massive Nutcracker backdrop stood from floor to ceiling on the second floor. Another little girl was getting her photo taken and she and Athena took turns standing in front of the backdrop and getting their picture taken. Athena spun and practiced her ballet positions as I snapped photos. She didn’t want to leave. We certainly found ways to pass time before the production.
When the doors opened, we went inside and found our seats. Another usher talked to Athena for several minutes about the mice. Athena was concerned that they’d be scary and she was confirming with the usher that she would be safe in our close seats. The lady assured her that the mice wouldn’t come off stage and they were friendly children dressed in costumes. Athena was very pleased with the answer and told me how much she liked the kind lady after she left.
The performance started with a dark theater and I worried that Athena might get scared but she sat quietly in her seat and held my hand. When the curtain came up and the stage was set, her eyes lit up. The ballerinas came on stage and Athena immediately started to clap. She was the first one but everyone else, including me, followed suit. She was like an old pro at theater productions already. I giggled to myself and clapped along.
I’ve seen more than a dozen different productions of The Nutcracker and I always prefer the second half to the first. Last night was the first time that the first half was equally fantastic. Clara’s brother was exceptional when I don’t usually like his character and The Nutcrackers opening performance was one of my favorites of the night. Clara, too, had a strong stage presence and her elegance and graceful movements were obvious, even under her long dress.
Another first at this performance was my preference for the male dancers. Normally, I prefer the female dancers so much that I see the males as supporters for them – as a backdrop. Last night, the males took the lead. Alexander Fost’s smile lit up the stage whenever he was on it. It’s rare for someone to be in the middle of an intense performance and still look like they are modeling in a photo shoot. Fabrice Calmels looks like he just walked off the runway too. He’s the tallest male dancer I’ve ever seen. When females work with him they must be petrified to be thrown up into the air. How could someone with the body of a football player be such a graceful ballerina? The only dancer who I was more mesmerized by was Mariana Carrillo.
Mariana performed as one of the Arabian dancers. She moved her body as if she was a contortionist yet it was so fluid and symmetrical that I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful. I didn’t want her to leave the stage. She was my favorite dancer. Hopefully I’ll see more of her at Irvine Barclay Theater.
Athena had her favorite moments too. She loved The Battle and wasn’t fearful of the mice at all. They were her favorite performers since they were children and “so cute”. The angels, who were children as well, made Athena stand up from her seat to see better. She asked me if she could go up on stage to dance with them. Obviously, I had to say no last night but I’m already looking into dance schools near me. The biggest smile on her face came when the Gingersnaps were on stage. I had to ask her not to clap so much and remind her that it might distract the dancers.
Admittedly, Athena was antsy during the last fifteen minutes of the night. She sat on my lap and wiggled in the seat. She didn’t talk or disrupt anyone around us but I could tell that it would have come if we stayed much longer. When it was time for all of the dancers to appear on stage for a final bow, we made our way to the back of the theater.
On the drive home, Athena kept telling me how much fun she had. She asked me to send all of the pictures of her in the theater to grandma immediately. She didn’t fall asleep on the drive home either. Instead, she told me about all of her favorite parts and how much she wanted to be a ballerina. I hope that same wonder and passion fills her life. It was so beautiful to see The Nutcracker through my eyes and through the eyes of a child. It’s like seeing everything twice in a different light. It’s rare to find a performance that we both love equally. Festival Ballet Theater’s The Nutcracker has a place on our yearly list.