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When I was a little girl, my Grandma Beazie (my great-grandmother), used to take me to see The Nutcracker every year at our local theater, the Flynn Theater in Burlington, VT. We would walk down Church Street, where all the shops had their holiday window displays set up, stop for hot chocolate, and go see our show together. Some years, I would spend the night at her house afterward. If I close my eyes, I can still picture her living room with the pull out couch, with my playbill and souvenirs spread out on top of the blankets.
This Saturday, I'm taking Little L. to see The Nutcracker for her first time. She's only four years old, so I'm not sure if she'll last through the entire performance…we'll see. I have a feeling she'll love the dancing. Despite my own reservations about princesses and ballerinas, L. has been really into these two books lately:
How to be a Ballerina by Harriet Castor and illustrated Holley Clifton-Brown is filled with flaps and moveable, interactive parts that kids love to play with, and the illustrations are filled with tiny little details. It's the kind of book where you notice something new in the pictures every time you read it. My First Ballet Class by Alyssa Satin Capucilli (author of Biscuit, My First Soccer Game and other faves) and illustrated by Leyah Jensen is a really a well written, step by step, how-to book. L. likes to act out the ballet steps along with the book because the directions are so clear and engaging.
I wanted to help L. understand the story, so she wouldn't be totally confused by the ballet, so two nights ago, we read a picture book version of The Nutcracker at bedtime. There are about a zillion different versions of The Nutcracker, I learned. This one is a very simple version, with just a few lines per page but still beautiful.
Little L.'s eyes were wide as we read the part about the Mouse King, with his seven heads. She clung to my arm tightly all through the battle scene, where the Nutcracker and the Soldiers fought bravely against the Mouse King and his army of mice, and she gasped when the Nutcracker fell.
"What's going to happen?" she asked worriedly.
"Don't worry, let's keep reading and find out."
As we read the next part, where Maria (in this version, the main character is named Maria instead of Clara) takes off one of her slippers and tosses it at the Mouse King. He hisses and falls into a limp pile, destroyed by Maria's slipper. Little L. excitedly started to chatter. "She…she… she SAVED him!" L. shouted triumphantly.
"She sure did. She's brave," I said. I read on, trying to emphasize how brave Maria is. For the rest of the book, I sort of glossed over the parts where she and the prince get engaged and then married and the typical, fairy-tale sort of ending that reinforces the expectation that women need to be married in order to be happy (my thoughts on princess-culture and fairytales can be saved for another post).
"What do you think, are you ready to see the dancers bring this story to life on a stage?" I asked L.
L. stared back at me blankly. "Huh? This is REAL?"
"It's a pretend story, but on Saturday we're going to the theater to see dancers act out all the parts of the story on a stage."
I could tell she was still confused.
So, tonight we watched a few scenes from the 1986 movie version of The Nutcracker, the one that Maurice Sendak helped to write and design.
To be perfectly honest, I found it a little creepy, but Little L. LOVED it. We only watched the first ten minutes of it, but she was on the edge of her seat the entire time.
"Now, are you ready to go see the dancers in real life on Saturday?" I asked her.
"Can we go now?!" was her answer.
"Pretty soon, L. Pretty soon."