Last Thursday, as I flipped through my Alvin Ailey program waiting for the “Best of Twenty Years” show to begin, I noticed that something was missing. This would be the first time I’d seen a full evening of Ailey without ending the night with the company staple, Revelations. “Good,” I thought. “I’ve seen Revelations plenty of times. I can’t wait to see what they do instead.” The closing number, Love Stories, was pretty amazing. It was full of the high energy, amazing skill and emotional relationships that makes the company spectacular, but I still walked out of the theater feeling like the show was incomplete.
And then I had a revelation of my own. No matter how many times I see Revelations I still want to see it again. Not only do I love it, I have come to expect it. Good choreography just keeps getting better, even if (and sometimes especially if) I’ve seen it a hundred times.
This made me think of another familiar work that has been getting some mixed reviews from critics of late, The Nutcracker. Sarah Kaufman of the Washington Post comments on The Nutcracker’s “pervading tweeness” and on wishing “ballet had something better to do this time of year.” She wrote, “What I do regret is ‘The Nutcracker’s’ ubiquity, the way it stifles any other creative efforts in dance during the holiday season.” Personally, I was shocked to read my beloved Nutcracker being abused like this. Yes, a new kind of holiday show might be nice (I’m always a big fan of Nutcracker spin-offs). But, just as at the end of an Ailey show I expect Revelations and feel a little empty without it, come holiday time, I expect the Nutcracker and anything else, no matter how beautiful or exciting, just doesn’t cut it.
Watching a new work, on the edge of my seat wondering what will happen next, is always great, but it’s not superior to the joy I get from watching something wonderful that I’ve seen so many times, picking up on subtle nuances and hoping that everyone around me is catching all the same brilliance that I am.
Many have a Nutcracker that they return to every year. For me, that Nutcracker is the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago’s version. I danced in its children’s cast, always only in the first act. For the second act, my fellow angels or mice and I would sit in the top row of the balcony captivated by the show’s beauty, and we’d make up words to Tchaikovsky’s music. I’ve been back every year since. Sometimes to this day when watching the Sugar Plum Fairy and Nutcracker Prince’s pas de deux, I can’t help singing in my head, “I love to dance with you. Yes, I do.” The familiarity brings back countless memories and makes me feel at home.
Just like Revelations at the end of every Alvin Ailey show, I would miss Joffrey’s Nutcracker if I didn’t see it every holiday season. For the other 11 months of the year, I welcome all the experimentation and variety I can get, but in December, all I want for Christmas is The Nutcracker.