Back when Stella was five, and her paternal grandmother was alive, we took her to see the Milwaukee Ballet's production of the Nutcracker. Her grandmother, the late (and wonderful) Jan Wensing, who was always ready with a bit of interesting fun facts and advice, had told me that the general wisdom was that a five year old could be expected to get through the Nutcracker and retain interest right up to about where the Arabian Dance begins in Act II. While it's wonderful and magical, two hours is a lot to ask a five year old to sit still through. Stella actually made it all the way through the Sugar Plum Fairy that year as a five year old.
Ever since, we've made it a tradtion, Stella and I. While our normal ballet season tickets are comfortably in the loge, we purposely pick a different spot to see the Nutcracker in each year. This year, what with the economy an all, we had to go with nosebleed. The Ballet clearly knew this, and we took advantage of their offer for "buy one adult ticket, get up to two children's tickets @ $10." It was such a good deal that we invited our friends Emily, Lily and Lucy to join us, and it was a lovely night out.
Sammy overheard us talking about this, and he asked to go. Hmmmm, he's five, he'll last through the Arabian dance, so what's $10? And we're both glad he joined us. We briefed him on the story beforehand, and sang all the popular songs through it, and explained to him that this was where all these songs came from. ("Not the Tom and Jerry episode!" although that what he referenced.) He ended up loving it even more than Stella did as a five year old.
It works from the cheap seats, believe it or not. I wish more people knew this -- most people see that a night at the ballet can run up to at least $100 depending on the seats. But I've seen Michael Pink's version going on five years now, and it almost gets better every year. It's fantasy, it really does remove me from the crummy weather, the crummy economy, and it was a easy way to dunk my normally pokemon-obsessed, Godzilla-fighting kids into a pool of classic culture. Even though Sammy -- right on the dot -- started whining and fidgeting when the Arabian dancers did their thing, afterward he said it was awesome, which is high praise from his age group.
Stella, on the other hand, finally understands why I wait for the sensuality of the Arabian dancers, this year done by Susan Gartell and Andrey Kasatsky. As a gymnast, she finally appreciated the athleticism of that particular dance. Other standouts this time around included Douglas McCubbin's terrific Drosselmeyer, seeming more wizard-y than previous Drosselmeyers, using his entire body to communicate an otherworldliness befitting a toymaker. Ryan Martin was a particularly chivalrous Karl, and Luz San Miguel could almost be taken for granted as a lovely Marie. And Stella and I suspect that family favorite Tatiana Jouravel could spend the rest of her life dancing the Snow Queen. (Stella has a souvenir pair of autographed pointe shoes from Jouravel -- who once substitute taught Stella's ballet class and was inspiringly effusive, complete with enchanting foreign accent.)
But there was something magical and fun to watch a little boy, up in the rafters (we were in the very back row so he could do this without blocking somebody's view) "conduct" the orchestra through songs that he was so pleased to recognize. Every time a movement would begin, he'd light up like our Christmas tree in joyful recognition, and enjoyed the show way beneath. Stella, in the meantime, practiced her arabesques in the lobby during the break (and in the parking lot on the way out), and it was the loveliest cheap night out we'd had in awhile. There's no holiday tradition like consistent excellence.
In the meantime, we stayed home and watched the Bucks game from the comfort of our warm dry house. We sold out tix to a friend, and we're happy they got their money's worth -- a good, fast up and down game that culminated with a win. Terrific passing -- these guys are really seeming like a team these days, and even if they don't make the playoffs, it's good to watch them play this way.
Coming up this holiday weekend -- huge Hunger Task Force benefit show this Friday at Shank Hall -- hosted by onmilwaukee.com. John Sieger will be there, but the band/moment I'm going to see is Testa Rosa. They'll be fronting a (local) all-star version of "Do They Know It's Christmas" which will include, among others, Rich "Atomic" Menning singing a verse or two, a la Bono/Cyndi Lauper, et al. Shank shows are ending early, so there will still be time to catch the always entertaining Guido's Racecar at the Cactus Club. And speaking of club, Saturday night the Five Card Studs club it at Cali's in Brookfield.
In the meantime, I'm getting ready for Christmas cheer. I've had a wacked out month, and a few setbacks in my life these past few weeks, but I've also learned that I'll get through them, and the reason I'm not panicking is that I've learned that I have one pack of terrific friends and family (and those two terms pretty much merge for me these days: my family are my friends, my friends are my family). It's times like that that I think I really get this whole season: it's a time to be truly grateful. I'm grateful for my friends and family, and I thank you, dear reader, for coming and visiting my virtual home here every so often.
Finally, speaking of consistent excellence in our Christmas traditions, I'm about to sign off for now so that I can catch the rest of the 27th Annual Paul Host Christmas radio show on WMSE, 91.7. Like Michael Pink's Nutcracker, Paul Host's voice (as well as his record collection) is a comfortingly consistent element of this town -- this town that I've grown to love simply because it's packed with great music, art, and most of all, friends and family. Happy Christmas, youse!