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Art, deep as memory / At the holidays, the arts become especially personal, shot through with ritual and family tradition. On these pages, six encounters with words, images and music that left their mark on our writers.

Dancing on and on and on in her head

December 23, 2007|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

Visions of sugarplums do not dance in my head when I start hearing Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," everywhere, earlier and earlier each year as the time period between "the holidays" shrinks like the polar ice cap.

No, the too-familiar melodies actually make me feel like teenage delinquent Alex in "A Clockwork Orange," who goes through aversion therapy that pairs Beethoven's symphonies with videos of ultra-violence, causing him to suffer extreme nausea upon hearing his favorite composer.

My aversion therapy began in 19 . . . , well, pre-Internet, when I was a teenage member of the Detroit Severo Ballet Company. The annual chance to perform in the corps de ballet as a Snowflake and, yes, a Sugarplum with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra -- very sweet -- meant giving up weekends beginning in late August and hearing that music, over and over and over, glazed-eyed as we tried to finish our trigonometry homework while the little kids scampered through their tedious rodent battle.

Rehearsals occurred under the watchful eyes of taskmaster Sandra Severo and Gretchen, her very large German shepherd. For reasons none of us will ever understand, Mrs. Severo tended to alter the pronunciation of our names; mine became "Dee-anna Heidemann" -- or simply "Heidemann," as in: "Wrong, Heidemann." Wrong or right, "The Nutcracker" played on.

Was it worth it? Well, I did eventually turn in a few years as dance critic at the Detroit Free Press, which had once called one of our "Nutcrackers" "over-rehearsed" (I'll second that). And I suppose those years brought a deeper appreciation to a recent visit to the Alex Theatre in Glendale to see Los Angeles Ballet's very charming production of the holiday ballet.

Still, each year, when "The Nutcracker" pours through the speakers into an elevator or shopping mall, I think there just might be a movie in "A Clockwork Sugarplum."

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diane.haithman@latimes.com

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