This is the first time in four years that I haven’t packed up a bunch of tights, dance shoes, makeup, bobby pins, safety pins, tutus and granola bars and trundled across town to do a Nutcracker show somewhere. We’ve danced to almost every part of the Nutcracker in my ballet class itself, and we’ve actually performed the Waltz of the Snowflakes several times, variations of the Sugar Plum Fairy solo (both the classical version and an electronic one with LEDs in our tutus), the Spanish dance (so much fun), the Waltz of the Flowers (so loooong), and different parts of the party scene from the first act of the ballet, all for audiences of friends and strangers alike.
Last year a small group of us performed a Nutcracker medley and some other pieces at a nearby stately home which is now a very, very swanky retirement community. We danced in a marvelous room with a shiny wooden floor and roaring fireplace—so the whole time we had to avoid slipping and breaking a leg, or whirling too close to the fire and having our tutus go up in flames. Also, it was a billion degrees in there. BUT, the audience was super-appreciative and we were treated to a wonderful buffet afterwards. AND there was an adorable dog in residence, AND I got one of my favorite ballet pictures of me ever:
We did our regular Christmas show in Brighton a week later—and that was the last time I performed anything. I was supposed to dance with a few other women at a “winter wonderland” out at Brighton Marina right before last Christmas, but I came down with tonsillitis and spent the day curled up on the sofa in misery instead. (It’s the only time I’ve ever bailed on a performance, and I felt terrible for doing so.) And after spending all of last autumn and winter rehearsing for our second show in the West End, which was supposed to be in May, the pandemic put an end to that, too. So the only time my tutus have gotten an outing this year is when I’ve put them on to dance around in my kitchen. It’s not quite the same.
But, obviously, nothing is the same this year. Instead of dancing to the Nutcracker myself, or traveling up to London to see the Royal Ballet perform the Nutcracker, or taking my family to see Pacific Northwest Ballet dance the Nutcracker in Seattle, I’ve sat on the sofa and watched multiple versions of the Nutcracker online. (Props to Jeremy, who sits beside me without complaint as I watch a billion variations of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.)
I woke up feeling quite emotionally wobbly on Christmas morning. I thought I’d be okay, that I’d come to terms with our situation and would be able to lean into Christmas à deux without thinking too much about all the people we weren’t seeing and places we weren’t going. But I was crying before we’d even made it through breakfast. I sniffled my way through opening presents (presents that included a beautiful blanket crocheted by my mom—cue more tears), and finally retreated to the bedroom to have a good old sob about everything.
And after tearfully acknowledging the sadness and strangeness of this quiet Christmas, I felt a bit better. Even though it wasn’t yet noon, I poured myself a little glass of Baileys and curled up on the couch under my mom’s blanket. I turned on the television and fired up Nutcracker Delights by English National Ballet, a recording of the show they had planned to perform live throughout December until the COVID restrictions tightened up and all the theaters closed again. And I took happy refuge in the classic Christmas ballet, the sparkly Snowflakes and Sugar Plum, the music as familiar to me now as an old friend, mediated through a screen this year, like everything else, but comforting and beloved none the less.