If you're thinking of seeing a production of the Nutcracker this holiday season, let me wholeheartedly recommend that you seek out a not-yet-professional production.
I just had the best ballet experience of my life, watching a local youth ballet perform it at a showing for a special needs audience.
I'm a strange sort of ballet fan. Mostly, I find the storytelling weak, but I'm drawn into the visuals: the costumes, the sets, and, most of all, the athleticism. As a woman who trips over hallways (just hallways, empty ones, with nothing in them), I admire the things these dancers can get their bodies to do, with grace.
Watching these young people with this particular audience was utterly amazing.
When you watch a professional ballet, everything looks effortless. I know that's supposed to be part of the artistry, but it's part of why it doesn't thrill me. It seems cold.
But this show, featuring young performers who may someday be those professionals, had such heart, such spark! When an especially difficult leap or lift or landing was accomplished, you could feel the joy. Maybe it's the teacher in me, or the mom, but I found it very moving to watch these young people reaching new levels of accomplishment. And they were definitely very accomplished.
And watching with this audience! I was worried about taking my very active four-year-old to a ballet, even a family friendly one, but I figured the special needs audience would be a little more accepting of any of her outbursts.
What I didn't realize was that who you watch with can be part of the joy of the show. It was like watching a jazz performance. Instead of waiting politely for the prescribed bowing moments, they called out and cheered when something impressive happened, clapped whenever they felt moved. And their energy fed the performers' energy and it was magic.
I wish the ballet was always like this.