A Christmas Tradition

Last year, for Christmas, Ashley and I stayed in town and had an awesome staycation in the city, with only one obvious blight: seeing the Nutcracker. We had decided at the last minute to go to see a Russian troupe performing at Flushing college in Queens. It sounded great, but just the trip out there required an hour on the subway, a bus, much walking, and finally a taxi. The theater looked more like an elementary school auditorium than a proper performance venue; the music was pre-recorded; and the troupe, while fine, was unimpressive.

This year, we were pretty excited to be seeing what is perhaps the premier ballet company in the country perform the classic tale.

As I was reading about the performance, I learned that we would be seeing George Balanchine’s original 1954 choreography—a rendition that has played in New York every year since. And it is because New York began performing the show annually that the Nutcracker has become a holiday tradition around the world.

After a lovely housewarming party for friends in Clinton Hill, Ashley and I made our way over to Blue Ribbon Sushi for a pre-show dinner. Although there are several places in the city where one can get equally fresh fish for less money, they have such a creative menu with all kinds of excellent dishes. And the modern, dimly lit restaurant made for a great pre-theater treat. Our favorite dish was the salmon tartare with quail egg—you mix it all together with soy sauce and scallions. So delicious!

After dinner, we walked up to Lincoln Center—admiring the Christmas lights along Broadway and Columbus Avenues, the glowing central fountain and the illuminated tree in the opera house—and then made our way, up, up, up, and up to our seats. The theater was surprisingly lovely considering it was built in the 1960s. From the fourth ring we could clearly see the orchestra as well as all of the dancers.

The New York City Ballet’s rendition was, not surprisingly, an entirely different experience than last year’s. Some of the dancers seemed almost weightless; and the Waltz of the Snowflakes was the most beautiful either of us had ever seen. The stage was filled by a blizzard of paper snow—fifty pounds of paper—and the sight was breathtaking. All of the sets were amazing. And the dancing was fantastic.

Our only surprise was that the Trepak was performed by dancers with hula hoops of candy cane. The candy cane dance comes from Balanchine’s original choreography, so we couldn’t fault them for this, but we did miss seeing the Russian Dancers—with those squat kicks—that we had both grown up with.

It was a cold night, and with everyone else trying to get cabs too, it took almost half an hour of ambling about for us to flag one down. When we finally got lucky, we crossed town to go to the head of my department’s house. There we joined a party celebrating the end of the annual urology post-graduate course. It was nice to finish the day as we had begun it–over drinks with friends.

(Ballet photos from The NY Times, December 2008)

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