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The Nutcracker and The Crooner

Monday, November 28, 2011

Last night James and I went to see New York City Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.

A friend gifted us with tickets. (A nice friend to have, for sure!)  I’d never seen The Nutcracker except for a few selections that I’d seen on television.  And it was being presented at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.


It was kind of a “fancy affair.”  Not tuxedo-fancy.  But dressier than my usual Aloha shirt and jeans.

I was a little uncomfortable when we took our seats.  (I think a big part of that was because I actually wore the kind of shirt that I had to tuck into my pants and it kept getting bunched up and twisted!)  And I was a little nervous.  That’s when it dawned on me:

I had never been to a ballet before!

(Ok, I have a vague memory of attending an abridged version of Coppelia that was done by a local youth ballet troupe when I was a kid.  But that memory is so cloudy, it doesn’t really count.)


This was kind of like stepping through a window in time.

Confused?  Stay with me…

My college years were spent in a fantastic conservatory program at Carnegie Mellon University.  That’s where I received my BFA in vocal performance.  For four years, I was surrounded by classical music.

In truth, classical music wasn’t a great fit for me.  I mean, I learned to love aspects of it.  (I still get all choked up listening to certain operatic arias.)  But it didn’t take me long to realize I was probably not going to make my living by performing in an opera house.

When I moved to NYC to pursue a career in musical theater, I thought I’d found my niche.  And I love musical theater!  But…

It also didn’t “fill the void” that I had inside me.

Hawaiian music and hula fill that void.  It is the niche I’d been looking for. Nothing else has ever made me feel so fulfilled.

I’d left the world of classical music and dance to pursue a different path.  But The Nutcracker was like stepping back into once-familiar territory.  I was delighted and anxious.  Would I still be able to understand it?  Would there still be aspects that made me itchy?

Watching the maestro take his place and hearing the opening notes, I felt like I was right back in school.  (Except this time, I wasn’t going to be tested on what I was seeing and hearing.)

The education I’d gotten from school allowed me to enjoy the performance from several different viewpoints.  At times, I concentrated on the dancers and their carefully choreographed movements.

Other times, I found myself captivated while I watched the musicians create musical envelope for the performance.

Musicians and dancers were of the highest caliber, for sure.

However, at times I still felt uncomfortably lost in my own mind, deep in thought.


Well, for the past several years, I’ve been immersed in the world of Hawaiian music and hula.  The music and movements presented in The Nutcracker were very different from those I’ve been studying.  I found myself thinking, “What would Pops think of this section?” And I could almost hear him saying, “Interesting, that movement.  What does it mean?”

And more importantly, I could hear him say “That was excellent, but it was not hula.”


Hula exists because of the words.  The dance illustrates the lyrics.  The music supports the lyrics.  The music and the dance work together–symbiotically–to bring the words to life.

And then it dawned on me:

The Nutcracker has no words.

Ah!  It was like someone had turned on the lights in a dark room.

It wasn’t about comparing this performance to Hawaiian music and hula.

It wasn’t even about remembering some of the difficult times I had as a student in the conservatory.

This moment was about watching these amazingly gifted and dedicated performers put together an incredible performance.

Once I realized that, I was free to let go completely.  Watch with “fresh eyes.”  Experience something new.  Immerse myself in the joy and richness of the production.

What a great way to help ring in the holiday season!

P.S.  I came home and downloaded The Nutcracker.  Now I can listen to it and relive the magic over and over.

P.P.S.  As soon as we walked out of the theater, I untucked my shirt.

7 Responses to “The Nutcracker and The Crooner”

  1. Nicole Thibadeaux says:

    So here’s what I would do: get one of those nice, long sleeved shirts (by “nice” I mean feels nice, too, possibly with a little rayon or perhaps a silk/cotton blend, not too much ironing) that you can wear buttoned all the way up. Not necessarily a solid color; perhaps a texture or monochromatic print. Wear it with a blazer, perhaps a long scarf…and don’t tuck it in!

    Sorry, is that too California-ish? And I bet NYC basic black isn’t your best color either…

  2. Nicole Thibadeaux says:

    Sorry, I forgot: another option is a lightweight italian mock turtleneck pullover sweater. I bet you look great in a turtleneck.

    The point is you should feel as good as you look.

  3. Dara says:

    A couple of appropriate quotes from Mr. B to follow-up your Nuts experience and hopefully aid the reconciliation of hula vs ballet:

    “Dancing is music made visible.”

    “See the music, hear the dance.”

  4. Jason Poole says:

    @ Dara: MAHALO FOR SHARING THOSE QUOTES! That’s exactly what I was hoping for. We view life thru the filters of our experiences, right? So I totally understood the anxiety. But once I realized I was dealing with something new–a new lexicon!–I could let go of the filters and experience a new way of viewing the dance. Everyone involved in the production should be beyond proud of the work that they’ve done. I was completely blown away.

  5. Jason Poole says:

    @ Nicole: Mahalo for those suggestions! Right ON!!

  6. Joe says:

    Hi, I log on to your blog like every week. Your story-telling style is witty, keep it up!Joe aka tuskaley.