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     Volume 4 Issue 29 | January 14, 2005 |

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Straight Talk

Men in


“We're going to watch 'The Nut Cracker' at seven thirty this evening", I informed the kids. "Is it a movie?" asked my five year old daughter. "No, it's a ballet production". Her eyes lit up, "Can I wear my ballet costume then?" she asked me hopefully. I didn't have the heart to tell her that wearing a ballet costume might not be ideal attire for the evening but luckily I was spared having to answer as her siblings intervened with a chorus of, "Nooo!" At the tender age of five, ballet to my youngest consisted of little girls wearing pretty pink tutus and twirling and pirouetting. I think the concept of The English National Ballet performing The Nut Cracker which is a fantasy ballet based on a fairy tale written by E.T.A. Hoffman in the early Nineteenth Century and being performed to Tchaikovsky's score was really lost on her. However all three kids seemed to be rather excited at the thought of a family outing especially if it meant they could stay up late.

As our departure time loomed closer, I found to my dismay that I was showing pre flu symptoms. In fact I felt a bit like an amalgamation of Sneezy, Dopey and Grumpy from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs! But after a couple of paracetamols, a cup of tea and the knowledge that the tickets to the show were a Christmas gift to the children by my mother-in-law, I felt more human and just about ready to deal with twirling women and men in tights. The performance was at a theatre called The Coliseum and we got there in good time so after settling into our seats we had the opportunity to observe and absorb the opulence and grandeur of our surroundings. Built in 1904 along the lines of the Italian Renaissance the Coliseum theatre is the largest theatre in London. In 1968 the theatre became home to the English National Opera previously known as the Sadler's Wells Opera Company (they changed their name in 1974). It is also interspersed with performances by visiting companies such as The English National Ballet.

As I poured over the programme, I tried to tell my youngest the story of the Nut Cracker. It tells the tale of Christmas celebrations at Clara and Fritz Stahlbaum's home with family and friends. Clara's godfather, Mr. Drosselmeyer, makes magical toys and he entertains the guests with two life-sized dolls that dance around the room. Then he gives out gifts to the children, and gives Clara a very special gift of a nutcracker. Her brother, Fritz, is exceedingly jealous, and grabs the nutcracker and breaks it! Naturally Clara is upset, so Mr. Drosselmeyer repairs the doll before handing it back to her. After all the guests leave and everyone is asleep, Clara gets up in the night and goes downstairs to get her nutcracker from under the tree. Soon she falls asleep there, and is transported into a magical fantasy where her nutcracker has grown to the size of a human. Here we find the Mouse King who attacks the Nutcracker Prince who in turn tries to valiantly defend young Clara, but is injured in the battle. Clara manages to defeat the Mouse King by throwing her shoe at him! With the Mouse King out of the way, she saves the Nut Cracker Prince by kissing him which miraculously makes him human! Then she and her Prince are whisked away through the Enchanted Forest, where they see dancing snowflakes and other wonders. Then they travel further to the Kingdom of the Sweets. In the Kingdom of Sweets, Clara and the Prince behold the extraordinary beauty of the Sugarplum Fairy. She invites the couple to stay for a while and enjoy the entertainment of her subjects. Clara and the prince watch in awe as the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Sweets dance before them. When the dancers are finished, Clara and her Prince sail home in a magic sleigh made of ice and candy. On Christmas morning, Clara wakes under the tree holding her nutcracker doll. The End.

After this, I expected my daughter to be in awe of my long and rather protracted monologue! But instead she looked at me and said, "Oh, you didn't have to tell me, I already know the story I watched Barbie in The Nut Cracker on TV!!" I could just imagine Tchaikovsky and Hoffman both turning in their graves.

As the lights dimmed and we watched this magical fantasy unravel in front of us, I was relieved to see that all the children seemed to be engrossed in the ballet. But one should never take anything for granted especially where children are involved. Forty five minutes into the performance, I noticed my son fidgeting and as he was sitting three seats away from me he decided to raise his voice and inform me that he was very "SLEEPY". A few heads turned to us but luckily the orchestra was loud enough to drown out his announcement. To my relief act one ended almost immediately and we were able to ply the kids with ice cream in the hope that it would eradicate any signs of sleep or boredom. In their defence I have to admit that the first part of the show was good but didn't manage to grab my attention nor my husband. Having had the opportunity of seeing the Bolshoi Ballet perform, which was truly impressive and had us captivated by both the skill and artistry of their dancing, we were a little disappointed with the choreography of the show in front of us.

The second act was a little more inspired and the children visibly perked up for about 20 minutes, but soon after both my five-year-old and eight-year-old started to fidget and move around in their seats in the hope of getting comfortable for a little nap. I have to admit my ability to concentrate on the admirable renditions by the Sugar Plum Fairy and The Nut Cracker Prince was slightly diminished by the two rapidly wilting children on either side of me.

It had probably been a bit ambitious of us to have expected the two younger children to actually stay awake for the entirety of the performance considering it was way past their bed time. But the one person who sat enthralled throughout the performance was my eldest daughter. She found her first Ballet show truly wondrous. The set was imaginative and the costumes spectacular the only thing that marred her enjoyment was the man in front of her whose rather large head obscured part of her vision for much of the performance. As we sat with our children in the Taxi being lovingly squashed, I realised that despite the fact that we had been slightly disappointed by the ballet, the company of our children more than made up for that.

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