Peter Ilyich Tchaikowsky, Nutcracker Ballet

For many years, I ignored classical ballet and modern dance. Don’t ask me to explain why. Back in the 1970s, one of my best friends in college majored in dance at Indiana University.  He tried his darndest to get me to appreciate it at the time by describing the basic moves, showing me what incredibly strength and balance a dancer must possess, and analyzing the technique of the great dancers–Barishnikov, Nureyev, and Nijinsky–all to no avail.  I could appreciate these separate elements, but as an art form, ballet left me cold.

Maybe it was the extreme stylization of ballet that irked me.  Male dancers have to be strong enough to throw women up into the air and catch them, while making them look as light as a feather. Granted, given that many ballerinas battle anorexia, they might in fact be lighter than average. But still, you try tossing 90 pounds around like a basketball. And that was the problem. It seemed too unreal. It defied all sense of physics. It seemed almost like slight of hand. On top of that, modern dance seemed so divorced from the rhythm of the music–probably the elemental cause of dance in the first place–that I found it hard to appreciate it as a visual art form.

Of course, there is a bit of contradiction here, for I love many piece of music written for ballets. Among these are some of the most important musical works of the 20th century, written for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe in Paris, namely Stravinsky’s FirebirdPetrushka, and Rite of Spring.

No doubt I had heard the Suite from the Nutcracker ballet countless times during the Christmas season on the local classical station. During my sophomore year in college in the fall of 1974, my unrequited love  suggested we go see Fantasia, in which Disney’s illustrators did a clever job having fairies trace iridescent patterns on spider webs with drops of dew. And who can criticize the dancing mushrooms?  Later, she organized an outing with her and her best friend to see the Nutcracker live at Christmastime. I found the piece extremely accessible and the melding of visual images and music to be almost flawless.   Oddly enough, that wasn’t enough to make me want to follow ballet.

In the mid-1980s, I saw an interview with a number of ballerinas.  It was a documentary about the life of dancers and showed the struggles and pains and almost masochistic lengths they go through to be able to dance.  There was little else they were prepared to do.  When one was asked what she would like to do should she not make it as a full time professional ballerina, she thought for a moment and said, “maybe become a princess.”  This did not win me over to dance.

It wasn’t until I was married and had children that I started to appreciate the form.  When my daughter Claire was about two, I recorded a production of the Nutcracker that was on Public Television starring Mikhail Barishnikov.  Whenever I put it on, my daughter would watch completely enrapt.  When the “Russian Dance” came on, she’d explode in a frenzy of movement and start running around the house, completely enthralled and motivated by the music.

Still, it wasn’t until about two years ago that I started to fully appreciate the art form.  I was given season tickets to the ballet season at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.  The tickets had belonged to my best friend, David Hendrickson, who had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor a few months before.  His partner Gianfranco had moved David to Gainesville, Florida from his home in DC and knew David wouldn’t be able to attend the performances as he was undergoing chemo and radiation.  So my wife and I went to see the Beijing Dance Theatre, Keigwin + Company, the Ballet Preljocaj and the Mark Morris, Alvin Ailey, and Merce Cunningham dance companies.

Well, it’s as if the scales fell from my eyes. I watched, mouth agape, as dancers did extraordinary feats that defied gravity and expressed some of the most profound human emotions imaginable. I came away with a profound respect for the form and look forward to making up for so much lost time.

Tchaikovsky Biography

Download MP3 or Buy CDs of Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

One Response to Peter Ilyich Tchaikowsky, Nutcracker Ballet

  1. Gallivanta says:

    What a great gift those tickets were. I enjoyed reading a bit more about your college years.

    Like

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