Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Canyon Classic

When I bought three tickets to The Nutcracker at Hella Bella, Topanga's only toy shop, the salesgirl told me to get there early because parking was at a premium. I had taken Tai Chi classes at the Topanga Community House and knew well the limitations of which she spoke and we took her advice, arriving for the show a full hour before the curtain rose.

Teenage boys with flashlights motioned us to a parking space and in the almost pitch black, we picked our way down a rocky hillside to the welcoming lights of the Community House. I don't think I've ever attended a performance of The Nutcracker that Tchaikovsky's score wasn't playing in the background as we wandered in. You know the drill, all the while the audience is fiddling with seats and sweet wrappers and coughing and murmuring and until the orchestral instruments do their unharmonious warmups, in the background one normally hears The Nutcracker Overture. But not in the Topanga Community House. We were listening to "Norwegian Wood." There I was settling my granddaughter and my 8+ months pregnant daughter into their seats and singing..."isn't it good, Norwegian wood." Lottie looked up at me and said "What's that song, Nana? Is that The Nutcracker?"

The Community House is Topanga's village hall and just like village halls the world over, it's used by the locals for Mommy & Me classes, Scout meetings, Historical Society gatherings and as a polling place. But this weekend, it was the home of the Topanga Ballet School's 25th Anniversary Performance of "The Nutcracker."

There's no rise in the Community House so the 30-odd rows of folding chairs don't allow much of a view for small children. The organizers wisely leave about 20 feet of floor space in front of the chairs and there packing quilts and sleeping bags are thrown haphazardly down as a special place for the young to enjoy the show.

Due to our early arrival, we found pretty good seats in the third row. A kindly lady clued us in on the sleeping bag seating in the very front, while Lottie listened attentively, but saying nothing. Not too many minutes later, Lottie walked past us, saying nothing. We watched as she worked her way through a bunch of little kids and found a place to sit. Every now and then she'd look back at us and put her finger up to her lips, admonishing us to be quiet. She's as bossy as her Mum and her Mum's Mum.

And then the all the rustlings and stirrings behind the curtain and outside in the tent dressing rooms silenced and the beautifully, wonderfully, perfectly amateur community production of The Nutcracker began. The costuming and staging were perfect and there must have been at least 100 dancers involved from tentative four-year olds to women of almost 50 who had performed years ago and were involved in this 25th Anniversary show. In one scene, fathers lifted their daughters in synchronized movement. Jane and I cried. We are notoriously sentimental and that just did us in.

Charlotte was completely enthralled from the beginning movement to the final act and it is no wonder this is the perfect ballet to introduce young children to such an exquisite classical art form. As the ballet ended and the audience erupted into raucous applause, Lottie went and stood just below the stage. Looking up at the magical set, she just clapped and clapped and clapped.

Almost 25 years ago, I watched my daughter dance with The Milwaukee Ballet as was one of Mother Ginger's children. I don't believe I made it through any of her performances with a dry eye. Some things never change.


Blogger granny p said...

Not as bad as nativity plays though. Oh the exquisite agony and joy of those... Lin it's good to read you again. I have to tell you that this is the first time I got you up and found you'd moved on from Milwaukee. Yesterday - the day before - etc etc there you still were many years ago... Bloody blogger. Glad it's all working now. xx

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