Changing roles mark dancers’ growth

Published 12:23 am Saturday, December 20, 2008

This weekend I remembered a college professor’s lament that society was collapsing because of the lack of rituals in our lives. However, had he been with me last weekend at the Andalusia Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker, he would have concluded that Andalusia’s society is still strong.

For more than 20 years, we have been fortunate to enjoy this Christmas spectacle with its enchanting music, exciting choreography, bright scenery and costuming, and wonderful staging. And we share this Christmas ritual with hundreds of other cities who stage their own version of this classic. In doing so, we become part of an international celebration of the arts. On that level, The Nutcracker is our link to the rest of the political world as well as the world of the arts.

For those of us who are parents of dancers and alumnae of the Andalusia Ballet, the ritual takes on an additional meaning as a rite of passage for our children in their maturation. I honestly cannot remember what role my daughter first danced in The Nutcracker years ago, but I suspect her mother and I hoped that she just moved in time with the music and didn’t get out of line. A dozen years later, in a solo role, she suspended the law of gravity—at least in her parents’ hearts. In addition to its pageantry, one of the strengths of this ballet is its large number of parts and the varying degrees of difficulty of those parts.

Such a structure allows a young dancer to mark her progress from year to year as she moves from third set of feet under the dragon to gingersnap to angel to snowflake. Over the years, through a progression of roles, proud parents see how their children have matured, and the children see how discipline has led them to greater accomplishments. In short, ritual rises above simply doing or being the same in each observance to a measurement of change or progress. It replaces sentimentality with introspection, making it more valuable.

For those who attend simply to enjoy the performance, the Andalusia Ballet’s Nutcracker has always been an afternoon or evening well spent as well as a ritual without which the season is just not as joyful. And for the dancers and parents, the performance is a celebration of growth and maturity as well as a season of thanksgiving. For making The Nutcracker such a delightful and rewarding ritual to all of us, I salute Meryanne Murphy, her colleagues, and the hundreds of young dancers who have marked their growth through this ritual.