Thursday, January 01, 2009

Dress Rehearsal for the Bon Bons in The Nutcracker Ballet

“Hey, Lisa. How are you?” I responded on automatic to my daughter-in-laws ring tone programmed on my cell phone.

There was a pause. “This isn’t Lisa,” said a soft voice. “This is Brianna. Will you come to my Nutcracker dress rehearsal today?”

“Yes, of course! I’d love to come!” was my honored and sincere reply.

“She said ‘yes.’” I heard a triumphant voice echo as the phone was passed from my granddaughter to her Mom.

“I’ll be over around 3 PM to get you,” Lisa picked-up where Brianna left off.

Dress rehearsal was at Greenburg’s Palace Theater, the former Manos Movie Theater converted from historic ruin to a cultural, performing arts center. We bypassed the grand main entrance for the creaky black door around the corner on Pennsylvania Avenue. Lisa and I were privileged to enter the Stage Door with our five-year-old ballerina Brianna.

Inside, Moms stripped the little ballerinas of winter coats, hats, and gloves to reveal each little Nutcracker Bon Bon. Then, the Moms adjusted tights, fluffed the pink costumes, tucked droopy straps of tutus, and positioned the silver belts on tiny waists. The little dancers looked presentable and ready for dress rehearsal.

As they waited for the stage call, the girls greeted each other with hugs and chatter. “I went to the doctor today and he gave me a shot,” I heard Brianna say. She turned to show off her orange band-aid covering the spot where the injection jabbed her arm. She wore the band-aid like a badge of honor. “I didn’t even cry!” Another child confided in a whisper that she skipped pre-school to go to Pittsburgh for an afternoon performance of “the real Nutcracker.”

It took several announcements from the show director before the girls ended their conversations and threaded their way through the theater seats to the stage. I accompanied Brianna and her friend Katie to the stage. “If you take off your shoes,” invited the show choreographer, “you can take some pictures of the girls.” I quickly kicked off my K-Swiss shoes and photographed the girls until I was shoed away by the short-tempered show director who wanted to get things started. I made my way off stage not even bothering to put my shoes back on my feet, content that I’d snapped some treasured photos, a Grandma’s privilege. I continued my rehearsal photos from a theater seat with the parents who hadn’t dared to go on stage.

The Bon Bons clustered together on the stage until the director moved them arms lengths apart. She gave them spots along a line on the floor where they needed to remember to stand. She encouraged them to look forward into the seats. And, she reminded them to follow the movements of the older girls. Little heads nodded in understanding.

The music began. The girls skipped, hopped, raised their arms overhead in a delicate bow, skipped and blew kisses into the air, folded their hands and raised them to their head to mime sleep. They held hands and skipped across the stage, circled the star ballerina, then parted with more skips and hops. They ran through this performance three times before the director said, “That was good. I’ll see you all on Sunday.”

On Sunday, things felt different. Parents and grandparents filled the theater seats. The stage was off limits. The other ballerinas and the Bon Bons waited off in the back stage wings. There was a sense of formality and tension. Photos would be impossible from my theater seat.

The Nutcracker performance went on for over an hour before I began to squirm in my seat. I had failed to look ahead in my program book to see when the Bon Bons performed. The lights were too low for me to read the sequence of acts now so I waited and watched eager to see the girls who would steal the show. I noticed my son squirming too and discreetly texting a message to check on the Steelers game score. The lights went up for intermission and still no Bon Bons.

The ballet was well into Act II or even Act III, an eternity, before the pink flutter of 3 to 5 year old Bon Bons hopped onto the stage. I watched with intensity. Then, as quickly as they appeared, the Bon Bons were gone. At that point, for me anyway, the show had ended. I had seen what I’d come to see still I sat patiently in my theater seat for the finish of the show and the dancers’ final bow.

In reflection, I was glad that I had gone to the rehearsal. At the rehearsal, I got to see my girl and the Bon Bons dance the Nutcracker Suite not once, not twice, but three times up close. Of course, whenever I can I will attend the full show, but I think the dress rehearsal is the best part of the show.

December 12, 2008

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