I took my daughter, who is just shy of three years of age, to see “The Nutcracker” at the Royal Ballet last Sunday. This I plan to do ever year until she’s either an adult or decides to tell me she doesn’t really like ballet, whichever arrives first.
Last year was the inaugural event in this nascent tradition of ours. I made the mistake of not reading the fine print before purchasing our tickets, and so was left with a bit of a dilemma when I got to the doors and was told that no one under five was allowed in. I got round this problem (“She is five, goddamn it! She’s suffered a congenital heart condition that has stunted her growth – do you want to deny a dying child her last wish on Earth?”), and lo and behold, my daughter loved it. In fact, when the curtain closed on the first Act, my daughter turned to me and said, “Daddy, put the ballet back on.”
All right, parental boasting finished, onto the show itself. Actually, my daughter was nowhere near as engrossed in the ballet this time round because on this occasion I was wont to heed the small print and took her to the “Child Friendly Matinee” this year instead. Her attention sagged in the final half of the second Act, but given what was going on around her, I can’t really blame my daughter too much. It was pure carnage; children screaming to be taken home at the top of their lungs while parents tried to rush them out the door.
This leads me onto the performance neatly: I actually thought the dancing itself much more accomplished last year, when we attended the show meant for grown-ups. Anyone who has ever been involved in live performance, dance, theatre, what have you, knows the miraculous thing that always happens between final dress rehearsal and opening night: suddenly the plethora of mistakes simply disappear and everything goes off without a visible hitch. This boils down to a basic aspect of human psychology: the fear of humiliation in front of one’s peers. At this year’s kiddie show, I counted at least three notable dancing errors, and I’m hardly an aficionado in this area. One was so bad during the Spanish bit in the second Act, I thought for a moment it was intentional. Until the woman behind me let out a disgusted “Uh!” and I recalled that the intentionally bad dancing in “The Nutcracker” only happens in the interminable opening fifteen minutes, when comedy “old folk” (young people dressed up as pensioners) hobble around “hilariously” off time.
Like I say, it’s human nature – if you know that most of the people who are going to be watching you will be children having reached their ballet thresholds and vacated the premises before your big solo, as opposed to Russian ex-ballet dancers, married to wealthy oligarchs and watching your every micro-move like a hawk for any error, you’d have to be superhuman for it not to affect your performance in any way, shape or form. It’s not the Royal Ballet’s fault; I think it’s extremely nice that they offer the kiddie permitted matinee, and understand now why it is so completely necessary. If every performance involved that much cacophony from the crowd, the ballet would be avoided by everyone who hadn’t procreated recently like a bad smell.
By the way, have I mentioned the interminable first fifteen minutes of “The Nutcracker” yet? Man, this one takes a while to warm up, it really does. This is not the Royal Ballet’s fault obviously, but one to lay at the door of good ol’ Tchaikovsky himself. Pyotr, did we really need fifteen minutes of wordless exposition and bad nineteenth century simulacrum to understand that a kid gets a nutcracker as a present, her brother decapitates it, then she goes to bed and has a dream about it involving rats? Didn’t think so.
Anyhow, the second half is where all the action is, all the tunes you’d recognise. Only you can’t enjoy it if you attend the kiddie matinee as all the children wailing as their attention spans crash suddenly means it’s all drowned out. Anyhow, soon enough, I’ll be able to take my child to the grown-up show again, and see if this year represents a step backwards in her appreciation of the art form or it really was all down to the wailing. I shall report back this time next year.