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Sunday, December 16, 2012

'Tis the Season for The Nutcracker

Usually I see one Nutcracker Suite per holiday season.  Sometimes it’s a professional one; sometimes it’s a dance school performance.  Sometimes it’s a TV show.  Usually one Nutcracker is enough, but this year?  This year I saw four glorious Nutcrackers.  It was great! 

The first was the much-beloved Washington Ballet Nutcracker.  We subscribe to the Washington Ballet, and a bonus to renewing your subscription early is two tickets to their Nutcracker.  Last year we didn’t quite know where we'd be living and didn't order in time.  The year before I gave them away, so it had been awhile since I saw their charming historical interpretation.  The show is set in colonial times with George Washington as the Nutcracker and King George as the Rat King.  The mice are slapstick Redcoats.  The harlequin costumes of Mother Ginger’s children are some of my favorite in all theater history.  Mother Ginger herself rolls in atop a carousel much like the one down on the National Mall.  It’s a perfect American Nutcracker perfectly attuned to our nation’s capitol. 

My second Nutcracker was a real treat.  Ballet West traveled to the Kennedy Center.  Their staging is based on the first Nutcracker Suite performed in the US, and it was absolutely charming.  The dancers have extensions that go on forever,  their footwork quick and neat, but the added treat for me was that ten children from my new ballet school -- Skye Ballet Center -- auditioned and got parts.  One young friend performed the role of Clara.  She was good, too! 

A couple of years ago, a friend gave me a coveted present.  No longer available in stores or on the Internet, I have a DVD of the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Maurice Sendak version of the Nutcracker.  Sendak’s costuming ad sets are every bit as magical as his book illustrations, and PNB’s interpretation (the glamorous mother in Act I becomes a peacock in Act II making that my all-time favorite solo of all the Nutcrackers I’ve ever seen.  When I see The Waltz of the Snowflakes, I think I’m watching it, well, snow.

The fourth Nutcracker was the Nutcracker recital by Skye Ballet Center.  The children are beautifully taught and danced charmingly.  It’s hard to choose favorites between the senior girl’s lilting Sugar Plum Fairy and the five-year-olds in white crocheted caps tip-toeing across the stage as snow flurries.

Photo: Precious....
SBC Premiere Performance!
Saturday December 15th 
Reston Community Center
1:15PM Free for all!
                Cutest Snow Flurries EVER

Is it possible to see too many Nutcrackers?  Certainly the poor ones are painful.  I wish that cable channel -- the one we don’t subscribe to -- hadn’t monopolized all the glamorous professional ones I used to enjoy on TV.  I guess you can see too many Nutcracker, but I LOVE the Nutcracker Suite.  I love the dancing, the fantasy, the costumes, the music.  I've seen four this year, and I could tuck in one or two more.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas for Alan

My first stab at buying presents is always at small local businesses.  I have this very real fear that at some point in the future, we will be left with the guesswork and sensoryless experience of buying everything on-line.  What a joyless experience that would be.  (This ends the moralizing portion of this blog post.)  That said, the toy store didn’t have the Science Girl spa kit we wanted to get for Suzannah, so I ordered that for her along with a stack of books from Amazon.  I think that if you wanted to buy a hippopotamus, you could probably order that on Amazon.  If you were a member of Prime, you could get it with two day free shipping, too.

 They local toy store, however, is exactly the place to browse for a five-year-old boy.  First is a stop watch.  Yeah, yeah, lots of adults have stop watches incorporated into their watches or, these days into their phones which they would possibly lend to a kindergartner.  We’re pretty much into simplistic tools in our family, so my watch is a watch, and my phone is a cheapie flip phone.  (Yes, if you’re willing to spend little enough, you can still get a flip phone.  You know, one that doesn’t call your husband from the depths of your purse with no intentions from you.) 

This stopwatch is a big chunky circle that sports three buttons:  Stop, Clear and Go.  Why in that order, I have no idea.  You wouldn’t think you’d want to Stop before you Go, but thus it is.  These scruples pale in the magic of the Watch.  It hangs from a cord onto your chest like a glorious medal.  It confers upon you the stature of a Person of Importance.  Since Alan is obsessed with time and the passage of time, this will let him monitor it literally by the second. 

When you were a kid, did you have one of those metal wire spheres?  You know, one of the ones that you could expand to about 6” in diameter and squash down into a little nugget.  Well, now, there’s a toy sort of like that but made of plastic scissor legs.  It’s bigger, and it’s better.  It’s called a Hoberman Sphere, and it collapses to nine inches in diameter and opens up to THIRTY!  (For science geeks out there, it consists of six circles corresponding to the edges of an icosidodecahedron -- face it, it's just fun to say that.  Te biggest one ever hangs in the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City.)  You can pull it out or shrink it down, and the plastic spokes are resilient and won’t break or at least won't poke you if you pounce on the thing.  It’s magnificent.  It’s magic.  What’s more, if you' rather, it has a ring and a string, so you can hang it from the ceiling and pull the string to collapse it; release the string to blow it up.  Whoosh! 

Then there’s his stocking stuffer.  It’s a six small, rectangular, wooden blocks joined by invisible elastic wire so you can twist them into any sort of configuration while they remain attached.  You can turn them and twitch them while sitting quietly in your own little corner in your own little chair.  They are perfect for a wiggly five-year-old or, um, sixty-five-year-old. 

Now comes the dilemma of Christmas.   We got these toys to give to Alan.  We bought them with his personality and interests in mind.  Here’s the rub:  I want all Alan’s toys.