Saturday, December 3, 2016

Xmas Happy/Sad

Posting because holiday season happy-sadness is @ this point such an emotional anchor for how we understand these few weeks.

This post is about the music of The Nutcracker and how I relate to it. There's a tweet-length payoff and summary. But tweet-length payoffs are, by definition, that. If that's what ur looking 4, go in peace.

As a kid, I got to dance in The Nutcracker. I first got to do it as a kid kid, from ages 8-12, with the New York City Ballet. In New York, and honestly kind of everywhere, that's "the" Nutcracker: the one Balanchine choreographed on one of the world's flagship dance companies. It's performed at Lincoln Center, at what was then called the "New York State Theater" but is, I've just learned, now officially known as the David H. Koch Theater, though I kind of bet most people are still using the old name.

It's an approximately 2,600-seat theater; I was a kid participating in one of the banner seasonal events of my city/community -- friends came with families, I was dancing with NYCB, etc. This gloss softened somewhat when, in I think my 3rd year, I was heartbreakingly (I'm literally not sure if those italics are ironic, earnest, or both; they're both, but I'm not sure the ratio) not selected to be Prince, and was again made a "party boy", which is what most of the boys in the cast who get to be in the show get to be (girls have many more choices: they're soldiers in the battle; they're hoops; they're the my-gosh i forgot the name tiny little good-dancing gremlins who come out of Mother Marzipan's dress or whatever t/f that lady's name is; they're Angels, obviously, scooting around on bended knees to get that hovering effect).

Sorry long sidebar point: the gloss never fully went away. Of course. Standing backstage as the overture played (I was, I think a few times, one of the first "party boys" to arrive at the party that begins the ballet); talking or joking with the members of the corps de ballet who played my parents -- even at eight or nine, I had a sense that this was a pretty ho-hum gig for them: you don't join NYCB hoping to get to walk around in period costume and pantomime waving. But they were also in good spirits.

It was just fantastic.

Then, senior year of high school, I got to be in The Nutcracker again. This time I got to be the soldier doll, whose brief and athletic solo (also in that first scene party; I never broke out of that d#mn first-scene party) I had performed many times as an 8-12 year old, in the dressing room in the bowels of the State Theater, because we all had to watch it and it was full of cool dude-bro athletic footwork and we (the little boys) loved it and learned it. And now I got to be it! Not with NYCB--I had long since taken myself off/been removed from that hyper-elite track of dancer-training--but with a smaller and wonderful company called Dances...Patrelle that I was privileged to work with, given that most of the other kids there were indeed still at SAB or similar places and on that elite track. I was definitely not at that level, in terms of either native ability or--to be honest, I see now--moment to moment focus on craft (although perhaps with a ton more native ability my deficiencies in drive wouldn't have been so pronounced; etc.). Anyway I felt and feel acutely grateful just to be there, to have the opportunity.

The Dances...Patrelle production is called "The Yorkville Nutracker", by the way, and they're doing it again this year: hit the link above on the company name to get tickets. You should, if you're in NYC and interested in seeing top-tier dancers moonlighting in a new and enlivening way.

Anyway: me. I was grappling with the decision of whether and how to continue with dance when/if I went to college. There wasn't really an if about college, just about whether to go the following year or maybe take some time to "really dance". I think I knew, in my heart, that I wasn't going to take some time to "really dance"; but I also think that those months senior year of high-school were as close as I ever actually came to that, and sometimes your heart changes and you do the thing that you think in your heart not actually going to do, and I think I knew that too. So I really was teetering on an exciting thing (also, I was going to college! whoa!).

I remember walking across Central Park on a cold winter day, to the tech rehearsal, and this was a weekday so I wasn't in school, which was very unusual for me in high-school; I didn't miss a single day until junior year, and then in total I think I missed like 1 or maybe 2 sick days, and then 2 or maybe 3 days for things like this (professional dance stuff). So I already had this surreal sense of "anything's possible" and I remember walking--it was a sunny cold day in NYC, like winter often is: crisp, cold--and knowing I was going to a much more "grown-up" role in a smaller production than the ones of my youth, but one I was proud of and proud to be part of, and sort of thinking/feeling hunh, maybe this.

So now we get to the point.

I, like y'know billions and billion-billion humans before me, have been deeply printed upon by the music of my life. Music that I heard many times in a specific context; music with a specific sense of association to time, place, people. And there is no music in my life that etched so deeply as the music of The Nutcracker. I avoid this fact, because it's--to be honest--lightly etched into many people, and understandably, because it's such a seasonal favorite. So many people, entirely understandably, enjoy humming along as the soldier's dance comes on, or any of the many "songs" in the second act (which, I think, is part of its enduring appeal: how that second act is broken into a series of songs with recognizable and accessible melodies). And I avoid it not because it's painful, but because it is hard and a little heavy: not bad heavy, but deeply happy and sad and melancholic, all about the enduring and constant passage of time and the non-negotiable loss of the person we were even yesterday, nevermind almost 30 years ago, and the disconnect and dissatisfaction with how and whether we've realized the potential of that 30-years-ago person, as well as the fire and promise and hope of the future: there's a 30-years-from-now me, looking back (gods willing), and I hope things I do today will help me meet the promise that today-me holds, in his eyes.

That's all of what happens to me, when I hear the music of The Nutcracker. It's a total emotional poleax and I pretty much have to (emotionally speaking) sit down and take a second.


It's the smallest of first-worldest of cis/white/male-est of "burdens" to bear; but it's mine, and I wanted to share it with you.