I’m with Alastair Macaulay – people who hate “The Nutcracker” have forgotten what it is, and I would add they’ve forgotten what makes this exact time of year so scary and wonderful in the first place. It’d be one thing if “The Nutcracker” sucked, but the music is absolutely transcendent – how can you possibly get through the Arabian Dance without your mind drifting back two thousand years? What part of you doesn’t feel joy during the Trepak?
before the performance at Lincoln Center
The Balanchine production of “The Nutcracker” has become a yearly pilgrimage for us, and I’m not just going so they can afford to do avant garde work in the summer; I go because to see the ballet is to see through the eyes of Lucy – a girl’s fever dream, the excitement of Christmas, a favorite toy, the overwhelming longing for innocent love, and a shitload of sugar sweets. It even closes mid-reverie, with the two kids flying into the ether, a permanently drawn midnight that never quite ends.
It’s a fitting metaphor for tonight, the longest, darkest night of the year. As I lay in bed, the outside temperature monitor reads 9 degrees, and the heaters in this old house can barely keep up. My brother Steve, always one to dabble in unintentional irony, lies in the room above us and has set his sleep machine to “Mid-Summer’s Night”, so I’m also hearing the crickets and distant bullfrogs of a blisteringly hot August evening.
Everything about this time of year is state-dependent; you will only hear these carols for these few weeks, you will only see the Marzipan dancers toe across the stage for a few days. We need this, the longest night of the year, in order to feel the inexorable swing back to life – its dearth of energy gives us energy, its bleak nothingness gives us meaning.
It’s at this precise moment that we’re all back to being kids, with the ghostly apparatus holding the earth as far away from light as possible, a dream that seems to go on a little too long, giving us fear laced with excitement.
I walked into the blizzard on Saturday night, and I’d forgotten that these are yellow-orange affairs in Brooklyn. The streetlights reflect all their light around and back down, churning the streets into an amber swirl. I was hiking into a 40-mph headwind, needles of ice going straight into my eyes. As my feet numbed into the 18 inches of snow, I thought: I need this. I need to be tested. It’s not supposed to be easy.
And that, to me, is what Christmas is at the core: a story about a couple about to give birth, met with resistance at every turn, and then finally working it out as best they could. We travel and prepare and cook and come together at the very moment when all of these things are the most difficult. We need this. We need to be tested. We need to come out on the other side and appreciate each day lasting two minutes longer than the one before until they luxuriate into the mist of crickets and distant bullfrogs.
what’s better than being ambushed by Lucy, Hank and Polly on a winter morn? Happy Holidays and see you next week!