Sunday, December 2, 2007

Oh, the humanity

"Marge, it's public TV! They never have anything good. Where are the Geraldos? Where are the Ewbankses-es?"
"They need our support! Besides, they gave me two tickets to the ballet."
"Ballet? Woo-hoo!"
"You like ballet?"
"Marjorie, please. I enjoy all the meats of our cultural stew."

All the filth, the lies, the corruption, the war, the death - in short, our heart of darkness beating louder and louder with each passing second - obscuring the daylight can be thoroughly forgotten within two evening hours, one hundred and twenty minutes that, to the outside world, are merely the next crumbling step in the endlessly spiraling staircase of bleakest time. But to those of us lucky enough to have been transported to another world, time is meaningless.

My not-always-better-half - as she would most certainly - and most correctly - say about yours truly - and I took our youngest to experience that most American of traditions, The Nutcracker. How a ballet written by a homosexual Russkie became an American tradition is one those pleasing kneeslappers that populate the traditions of, not just our own, but each and every culture.

I'm certainly no expert on ballet, being more of a fan of the score itself, simply one of the finest pieces of music ever crafted. The various melodies locked within its enchanting panorama have become part of the quotidian side of the holiday season and, as a consequence, may have lost some of their inherently magical charm. That is a shame.

In order to help rectify that corporate-fueled artistic blight, dressed in our finest, out we ventured into the cold - later to be sleet; O icy roads, how I love thee - and arrived at the State Theatre in construction-swamped downtown Cleveland and, in time, took our seats where I had to explain to our daughter that although sitting in one of the boxes would be lovely - 'pretty cool' was her exact term, I believe - and perhaps someday we can, we have to sit here because pop doesn't make vast gobs of cash nor does he have 'connections,' as it were. Once the first notes began to sound, that socioeconomic episode soon became a distant and forgotten memory.

Aside from the stupendous overture, the first thing the audience notices is the stunning artistry of the background, the costumes, the atmosphere. The Ballet San Jose - the Cleveland Ballet, once upon a time - under the direction of Dennis Nahat, created a world intimately familiar to anyone with a passing notion of the E.T.A. Hoffman story wonderfully transformed by master composer Piotr Tchaikovsky into the chef d'oeuvre so beloved the world over. Some of the surface phenomena has been changed from the presumably most well known version of choreographer George Balanchine - the names for the most part - but a major alteration is the presentation of Act II. Gone is the Kingdom of the Sweets and its sugary denizens. In its place, A Magical Journey to Muscovy, through Spain, Arabia, China, the steppes of central Asia, reflecting the style of dances originally written by Tchiakovsky himself. The song remains the same, however, and fits just as well as before, sometimes even better. For example, the slow, sensual dance of a sultan's troupe is perfectly accompanied by the languid, slower-than-expected Arabian Dance.

The Dances of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince Charming have moved into a stately, European ballroom where, maintaining a dreamlike quality, everything becomes more romantic as the finalé shifts and pirouettes closer and closer until the feet stop moving and the applause takes center stage.

Sounds pretty nice, but what's the big deal, right? Thousands of audience members across the land could've written something nearly identical, with the only difference being the unimportant details. The one important detail here, the one that stands above all else for me was the look of absolute joy on my daughter's face throughout. A spell had been cast over her and when it came time to applause, the adults may have been more forceful, louder, but their determination was no match for the little girl seated on my lap. The beauty of art, of human creation, and the appreciation of it, not on a technical level, but a visceral one, was blissfully unaware of the heart of darkness beating outside, because the heart of joy and innocence and love for one all-too-brief moment was beating louder.

Oh, the humanity. Would all our moments be as human as that, what a world that lay before us.


Mary Ellen said...

What a great dad you are! I think it's very important to expose children to the arts at a young age. We did the same with our kids, and now they are doing it with theirs. A great tradition.

Freida Bee said...

Every year at my sons' school, the third grade goes to see "The Nutcracker," and my son just went, but I, alas, have not seen it since I went with my school so long ago. I am more motivated to change that after this post. I have never gone to see a ballet performance or ridden on a proper train, only the kiddie one at the park. Oh, the humanity.

Candace said...

Sigh. Your penultimate paragraph brought a tear to my eye. How lovely. How sweetly written. How gloriously LIVED.

Mauigirl said...

What a wonderful experience you and your daughter must have had. I love The Nutcracker.

La Belette Rouge said...

How lovely that she had an experience of the transcendence of art. The same experience is possible in whatever seat you can afford. What a beautiful gift you gave her.
I am sure she still has visions of dancing nutcrackers dancing in her head. Good dad. Lucky daughter.

Dr. Zaius said...

Don't look now, but the dance of the Russian Ribbon Candy hates America. Hai!

Randal Graves said...

ME, it's a vital thing, no? So many schools have had to cut arts funding, and not that us parents wouldn't have done these things anyway, but it becomes more important.

Freida Bee, if you get the chance, I highly recommend it. And don't worry, you aren't the only one who's never ridden on a 'real' train.

Candace, je vous remercie. It's was a great moment, perfect, and those are few are far between these days, you know?

mauigirl, we certainly did, and it's a wonderful piece.

LBR, she certainly did and wanted to go to the last performance yesterday. :) Et merci.

Dr. Zaius, Teh Gay Ghost of Piotr has many powers at his disposal!

DCup said...

What a beautifully written post!

As you know, I was Nutcracker-steeped this past week as a stage mother/volunteer. I worried that having been privy to the show's backstage secrets, I would no longer feel the magic of the performance.

Never fear, as soon as the curtains went up and the overature began, I was transported to that 19th century grand hall for the party scene.

It didn't even matter that I was the person who'd wrapped the box that held the Nutcracker.

You know how important it is to expose your daughter to the arts. The more we do so, the better chance we have to preserve that aspect of our culture.

Well done. She'll thank you for it by passing on the tradition when she's an adult.

Randal Graves said...

That's the magic of a great work of art. It was able to make you forget all the work you had to do and adult bullshittery and just enjoy.

Now, if I could only get them to try out the orchestra. :)