Who Is More Nervous, The Dancers Or Their Audience?
From December until the beginning of January is traditionally the 'Nutcracker Season' for ballet dancers and lovers. Throughout my dancing career, from the age of 13 until 21, I have been part of the same Nutcracker production of the German State Opera Berlin.
This means that there were many significant moments, growing up with the evolving roles I was allowed to dance, almost like a rite of passage: from dancing a mouse and the pas de trois, to a snowflake, the doll and finally the Sugar Plum.
Like most dance parents, mine too sat through numerous Nutcracker performances, year after year. And has anyone ever wondered what they go through watching their children, of any age, on stage?
Thierry Rosenzweig, my dedicated father, offers us an insight as this month's guest author:
I was wrong. As somebody born before….let’s say the 1950s, I assumed the tradition of presenting George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker during Xmas holidays had progressively faded away. Wrong! Ten seconds on Google proved to me the tradition is still very strong. If you are a (wealthy) New Yorker, for example, you still can try to book the “Annual holiday run with the Balanchine’s” at the most renowned New York City Ballet (on stage from 28 November 2015 to the 3rd January 2016).
Sugar Plum, 1994
the doll, 1993
This reminds me of a day in December 1994 when I anxiously went from Paris to Berlin to see my daughter Franziska performing The Nutcrackers’ main role at the Berlin State Opera Unter den Linden. I can't say I actually “saw" her or most parts of her dancing, even if as a privileged father I was given a very good front orchestra seat.
As soon as Franziska appeared (all alone!) for her first solo, all I could do is to look at the stage through a mere two millimetres of space between my fingers. I repeated the gesture on nearly every solo and "pas de deux".
I must say that Franziska was only 19 at the time and had still very little experience in "main roles", particularly in major ballet events. In addition, the evening before, the very experienced "prima ballerina" with which Franziska shared the role every two shows just fell flat in a middle of a solo in front of a very embarrassing audience and orchestra. "Things like that happen in a dancer's career", Franziska told me the day before her show "we just have to survive it".
I was then not really reassured when I left my coat at the Bolshoï-style Opera's cloakroom and climbed the magnificent main stairs to reach my seat among a mixed audience of typical East German attendees and foreign visitors from West Germany or Japan (the Berlin State Opera was in the East part of the town and the Berlin wall fell less than five years before).
However, the show was not totally torture for me. I remember that at one point (towards the last third of the ballet) I said to myself: "Now she can fall, she showed them what she is able to do, the grace she dances with…she is definitively an Opera solo dancer" and I decided to open my fingers to a good half centimetre.
Eventually, the steps of Franziska that I was eventually truly able to contemplate were her many final bows, which I found amazingly gracious and sophisticated.
I have never asked Franziska if she ever fell flat during her solo dance career, maybe, maybe not. I probably won't. What's the point? "Things like this happen"…and I know the strength of real professional dancers to get back with smiles and grace immediately after a dramatic fall.
Anyway, take care of yourself during this very slippery December weather and have a splendid Xmas with, why not, a
Balanchine's The Nutcracker DVD under your own Christmas tree.
To answer my dad's question: Yes. I did fall, and not only in The Nutcracker. It's always dramatic, but this may become a subject for a future blog...
pas de trois, 1988