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'Nutcracker' Memories to Last a Lifetime

November 19, 2000|STEVE CHAWKINS

Men generally don't admit to fond memories, or any at all, of "The Nutcracker." But when talk temporarily turned from hanging chads this week, a colleague of mine in the newsroom allowed that he had seen Tchaikovsky's ballet maybe 24 times.

When he spoke of it, he grew angry and red patches emerged on his cheeks, as if his face were about to break out.

"Basketball," he said. "Why couldn't we go see basketball?"

But every Christmas season, his mother was determined to put the children through a healthful family experience. Even as adults, they were forced to dress up, go downtown and brace themselves for a sugary surge of seasonal wonder. When he and his brother-in-law spent part of Act One in a sports bar across the street, they may just as well have taken a blunt instrument to the Sugar Plum Fairy and stuffed her in a trunk.

"I hate 'The Nutcracker,' " my friend said, with a passion few bring to the subject.

It doesn't have to be this way, of course.

Viewed in moderation, "The Nutcracker" can be part of a safe and sane holiday season.

"What can I say? It's an appealing family tradition," said Lori Sorenson, administrative director of the California Dance Theatre's Festival Ballet.

On Dec. 16 and 17, Sorenson's Westlake Village-based troupe will stage "The Nutcracker" for the seventh year at the Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks. This weekend, the Ventura County Ballet Company and Ballet Ventura School were mounting three performances at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center.

My friend, clearly suffering from dangerous "Nutcracker" overexposure, isn't going. Magnificent as these productions may be, neither am I.

My only "Nutcracker" was the one I saw in the Oxnard Civic Auditorium about 10 years ago, and that one can't be beat.

My daughter was 6--an age when seasonal wonder flows as easily as ice cream melts.

She was dressed in red velvet and was achingly cute.

She had never been to a big production before, never seen all these lights, never been around all these hundreds of other dressed-up kids, squirming like a worm farm in velvet.

Even after the curtain went up, parents hissed at their overstimulated children, battling to prepare them for their dose of wonder.

"Leave your sister alone! You hear me, Jason? Don't make me say it again! OK! Over here! Now!"

But Kate was transfixed, eyes never wavering as dancers cavorted with toy soldiers and rats, and candy canes . . . and, frankly, I was drifting in and out of a fine, rejuvenating sleep when I realized that every child in the house had at last quieted down.

All eyes were fixed on a woman in a tutu doing one of those impossibly graceful moves that make you feel you're made of ball bearings and paste. Her foot was cast over her head and her willowy neck was down toward the floor. She was quivering on one beautiful toe when the silence was broken by the bellow of a child--our child:

"Mom! You can see her underpants!"

Row after row of kids erupted in a brush fire of laughter, undone by the purity of Kate's observation. Jane and I sank in our seats.

Yet the ballerina, in an amazing display of seasonal wonder, barely flinched. Just as it has in all the years before, the show must go on.

It was the best "Nutcracker" I ever saw.


Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at

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