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The Nutcracker Through The Eyes Of Children And One Grown-Up Ballet Abstainer

This year, my family created a new Christmas tradition

Before last weekend, I’d never been to a real ballet.

And to be honest, I’ve never been that much of a fan. Too long, too boring, too many people, too much traffic… you know what I mean.

I couldn’t understand why people would actually go to see The Nutcracker every single year and make it a holiday tradition.

My two oldest daughters, though – Sadie, age 8 and Josie, age 7 – are big fans. So to kick off the holiday season, my mother-in-law took the three of us to see The Joffrey Ballet’s version at Playhouse Square.

None of us (besides Grandma) had seen The Nutcracker before. The girls donned their new Christmas dresses (they’re always looking for a reason to dress up), and we headed downtown. There were several events going on, so it was really busy and very crowded with other holiday merry-makers.

After we saw the lights at Public Square and the decorations at what used to be Higbee’s, we finally found a parking spot and made our way through the crowds to the theatres.

Once inside, we marveled at the beauty of the State Theatre. Decorated for Christmas and with a gigantic beautiful tree right in the lobby, the theatre immediately evoked festivity and Christmas-y-ness. I began to realize how lucky we are to have such a place (and cultural events like the ballet and The Cleveland Orchestra) nearby.  

We pushed our way past the Bavarian pretzels and hot cocoa carts with little time to spare. As we made a desperate last-minute trip to the potty (we didn’t want to miss anything!) and found our seats, the excitement kept building. “Is it time? How much longer? Is it time yet? Did you see that? I think the curtain moved!”

When the lights finally dimmed and we saw the first set, a gorgeous Victorian parlor decorated for Christmas, I realized that this was no ordinary ballet. The scenery was incredible. From the growing candlelit tree to the life-sized white horse to the candy forest, the whole thing was a feast for the eyes.

At certain points, it was almost too beautiful to look at. I know it sounds silly, but I actually found myself having trouble catching my breath.

I was almost unable to believe what I was seeing. If you’ve seen The Nutcracker, or at least a great production of it, you’ll know the part I’m talking about – with the glittering white wood sprites and the waltz of the snowflakes and the swelling music of Tchaikovsky and the snow falling; it literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes.

When I was able to tear my eyes away from the stage, though, what I saw was just as beautiful to me. My two girls, not fidgeting, not talking, not whispering or saying that they’re hungry or that they have to go to the bathroom – no, my two girls, staring, wide-eyed, rapt, craning their heads from their little theater-issued booster seats, not wanting to miss a single solitary second. Eyes riveted. Mouths in perfect little O’s.

It was, simply put, magical.

Afterward, I asked what they liked best (I liked the giant teapot and the Chinese Tea Dance.) Josie, without hesitating, said, “I liked it when the nutcracker doll turned into a real guy! Poof! First he’s a doll, then there’s some smoke and he’s a guy! How do they DO that? And then I liked the giant doll lady (Mother Ginger) with all the kids running out from under her skirt!”

Sadie, though, said she couldn’t pick a favorite part. My dreamy-eyed, ballet-loving 8-year-old said, “I loved it all. Every minute of it. Every second.”

Now I understand. It’s really no wonder that people make it a holiday tradition.

Traffic was terrible. Parking was terrible. The crowds were terrible.

But the ballet – the ballet was magnificent.

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