Gotta dance

I’ve decided to follow my true calling and become a ballerina. It’s a dream I’ve cherished for nearly five days, and I can’t put it off any longer.

Before last weekend, I’d never seen a single performance by the Sacramento Ballet. Feeling remiss, as an arts writer and a Sacramentan, I donned my coat and walked to the Community Center Theater for a Saturday matinee of The Nutcracker. I only hoped for an afternoon of traditional holiday entertainment: Christmas trees, angels, sugar plums and so on. However, at some point during the show—I think it was when the Snow Queen emerged from her sleigh in a sparkling white tutu and rhinestone tiara as shimmering flakes fell from the ceiling in glorious drifts and her team of reindeer pirouetted in their harnesses—I was seized by the certainty that I must devote my life to dance.

I was not the only one. I couldn’t walk three steps in the lobby at intermission without a would-be ballerina crashing into me. Inspired by the wonders of the first half (and the sugar rush of cookies and juice from the refreshment counter), little girls twirled and flitted with abandon. Hair ribbons flew behind them, bows long since undone. They spun and kicked up their skirts and occasionally ricocheted off the hips and rumps of startled adults.

Honestly, I wanted to join them (in the dancing, not the rump jostling). I have performed similar improvised solos to the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky around all the Christmas trees of my childhood—and many of my adulthood. As was practically requisite for American girls of my generation, I took ballet lessons in community centers and neighborhood dance studios off and on during grade school. I dreamed of being a prima ballerina in a glittering tutu and there is a small part of me that has never gotten over the fact that it hasn’t happened. That part was utterly seduced by The Nutcracker last weekend.

The story itself is rather thin. Freaky Dr. Drosselmeyer, in eye patch and black cape, makes little Clara a present of a nutcracker soldier. That night, Clara falls asleep and dreams Dr. Drosselmeyer shrinks her down to the size of her toys. She and the nutcracker fight an army of mice before he turns into a prince and takes her to the magic Kingdom of Sweets. At this point, plot is abandoned entirely. The whole second half is simply a parade of various candies dancing for Clara’s amusement. It’s basically a longer, more elegant version of those “Let’s all go to the lobby!” movie-intermission cartoons where sodas conga with hot dogs.

But what hot dogs! What a conga line! The Nutcracker backdrops are gorgeous and elaborate—frosting-covered palaces, snowy evergreen woods, European cityscapes, richly dressed ballrooms. Every member of the enormous cast is dressed to perfection and the dancing is athletic enough to inspire repeated bouts of applause mid-number. The effects are astonishing; I literally gasped when the Christmas tree grew to skyscraper proportions in a matter of moments. The company has had decades to perfect this ballet and it shows.

Unfortunately, even the graceful pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier—in a palace built of ice cream and peppermint sticks—couldn’t hold the short attention spans of the younger audience members. Sobbing outbursts and mothers’ curtly whispered replies underscored the Sacramento Philharmonic throughout Act Two. Having slightly more experience sitting still than my young neighbors, I remained riveted until curtain.

By the time I emerged onto L Street, I wanted a season subscription to the Sacramento Ballet. I wanted to sign up for the company’s beginning dance classes (though I fear being the lone adult in a room of six-year-olds). I wanted to go back in time and stick with those childhood lessons. I wanted to pirouette all the way home, just like the little girls spinning down the street in front of me, dancing their way to the city’s parking garages with nutcracker souvenirs clutched in their hands.