Yesterday, I came across a documentary series called On Pointe. It’s available on DisneyPlus, and it follows students through one season at the School of American Ballet. Much of the series is devoted to behind-the-scenes views of preparations for the annual performance of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker ballet.
I’m only a few episodes in, but so far, it’s been delightful. The young dancers are talented and sweetly watchable. The action feels sincere; there’s no reality-TV scripting of dramatic moments, as far as I can tell.
As a child, I took a few ballet lessons, but I never participated in a performance of The Nutcracker, never danced across a stage while Tchaikovsky’s music told the magical tale of a Sugar Plum Fairy and children and wooden toys come to life. My parents did, however, take me to see a live performance (not a Balanchine performance, but it was a full-fledged professional production here in our city). I have memories of the music hall and the stage, and of hearing the symphony and watching costumed dancers spin and leap and glide. It only takes a few musical notes to be back in those moments; to remember that experience.
The Disney docuseries was filmed before the pandemic, and there is no live New York City Ballet performance this year. There is, however, a streaming purchase option of the 2019 performance, which includes students featured in the series. https://www.marquee.tv/videos/nycb-nutcracker-2020. A quick internet search reveals that there are also many other performances, produced by other ballet companies, that can be found via streaming platforms and carefully-managed live performances. The show will go on.
Today’s cuppa celebrates holiday memories and the magical world of dancing and music. These days, it seems that sadness is never far away. The world can feel cold and bleak. Perhaps a little bit of cheerful holiday storytelling, a traditional performance of imaginary fun and delight, can help to keep us warm.