As the calendar inches toward the end of the year, I, a Florida girl, revel in the sheer holiday-ness of this time of year at college in the Northeast: from colorful lights and decorations, to a bustling community life (even if we’re only fueled by the adrenaline of final exams), and most of all, the cold weather, which brings warm fires, hot chocolate, scarves, and most importantly, snow. The atmosphere (aside from those imminent finals) is more conducive to holiday spirit than anything I have ever experienced in the sunny, 80 degree Decembers of my childhood — yet something is still missing that keeps me from fully getting into the Christmas spirit: the “Nutcracker.”
I am a junior now, and this is the third year in a row I have not participated in a performance of the “Nutcracker” after a childhood full of the production. While I used to cringe and feel my heart rate pick up in anxiety anytime I heard the music, it now brings me a bittersweet feeling of nostalgia and longing. At first, I was surprised by the strength of my longing for the classic work — certainly it isn’t without its issues. At the forefront of many companies’ minds this year are the severe cultural issues with the work, which travels around the world in the second act. But despite the work needed to eliminate the problematic aspects, the production is still nothing short of magical. It’s visually compelling, the music is stunning and classic, and for dancers, it’s an integral part of life.
But it’s more than the production itself that I miss — it’s everything else that came with it. For one, “Nutcracker” season was when the sense of community among the dancers in the production was at its highest — for nothing brings us together better than miserable weekend rehearsals and delirious long nights at the theater. We also always did our best to bring the holiday cheer into the studio. We’d show up to rehearsals in holiday pajamas, bring themed snacks, and hold dressing room-wide Secret Santa exchanges, which brought energy and festivity to the space despite our being exhausted, stressed, and probably sick. (After months without a break, my immune system was usually on the floor.)
More than the tight-knit community and the merriment of acting out holiday cheer onstage, what really made “Nutcracker” feel like Christmas was the spirit of giving that it exemplified. Though being in the production wasn’t always magical — we were just as often getting yelled at or slipping on stage — seeing the way it brought families together, and the glowing eyes of young children as they walked out of the theater, was the most rewarding thing I have experienced to this day. The effect it had on the children was particularly special — for so many, this was their first exposure to ballet, and seeing kids spinning around in the lobby or having them ask, wide-eyed, to touch my tutu was the best gift I could get. We were part of bringing magic and holiday spirit to the community — through the art that we all loved so much, no less — and though it was grueling, there was nothing better than that to make us feel that Christmas had arrived.
Someday, I will make it back into a production of the “Nutcracker.” For now, I’ll content myself with taking a break from finals to watch the production and be on the receiving end of the gift of Christmas spirit. And as I am transported to the Land of Sweets and I feel the warm glow of the holidays surround me, I’ll remember how lucky I once was to help bring that magic to other people.
— Outgoing Campus and Dance exec Sara Komatsu will be working desperately to create holiday cheer at home in Florida without the New England cold or “Nutcracker” to aid her, and will therefore be unreachable until after Dec. 25. Thereafter she can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org, where she welcomes any and all dance enthusiasts in her inbox.