By Nancy Orans Eder
After much too-ing and fro-ing on Thursday finding out that my son, Michael, his father, and Anya were going to the dress rehearsal on Friday, I said I wanted to go. I didn’t know until that moment that there was a possibility of attending, since parents had been the only ones allowed at a prior dress rehearsal. Apparently directives to the parents were confusing and not always accurate. No tickets were required, but limits of one or two people per family had been stated. In the end I said I would think about it some more, since I didn’t want to go down there with my ex-husband and chance that I wouldn’t even be able to enter. Michael called back and said that I could go with him and Anya.
And that’s how I got to see the rehearsal. The number one train left us right at 66th and Broadway: Lincoln Center. Down through the stage door, which is nowhere near the entrance to the David H. Koch Theater, Michael, Anya and I waved to a stationed security guard who didn’t even check our names on a pre-approved list of permitted family members. While it gave us easy access and I was relieved to have gotten in, at the same time I was concerned about the safety of all attendees. Security in practice was nonexistent.
But this was not the time or place to express my concerns and happy to proceed, we hurriedly traipsed through meandering hallways and rooms off to each side – a virtual maze of mouse costumes – a warren of props, ladders, electrical fixtures and false entries into practice areas where young people were stretching their limbs or twirling on toe. . . finally arriving in the main theater of what was formerly known as the New York State Theater.
This building — this center of culture — represents the pinnacle of success for many stars of ballet from all over the world and little ten-year old Eliza was making her ballet debut as an Angel in Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. She even had an ‘understudy’ if you will, an alternate child of the same height and dimensions who would wear the same costume as Eliza and had her own performance dates.
We had no trouble finding seats in the first row orchestra only a very short twenty feet from the lit stage sporting an upright piano on stage left. The orchestra pit was not quite full, and at that point there was no dancing. We listened to the last strains from the harps and other strings at the tail end of the orchestra rehearsal. Then as the orchestra gradually left for lunch the stage started filling with costumed dancers. The rehearsal in the afternoon would be to the playing of the upright piano.
The theater itself was empty with the exception of about fifty parents and children who, like us, were in the audience to see the rehearsal of those in the second act. Eliza is in the second act only. Gradually individuals in costume came out on stage – some alone, others in small groups, some in warm up pants others with sweaters – most in costume.
It was fascinating to see their expressions up close concentrating, serious, some talking to others. At some points there were four to six directors on stage observing, commenting, redirecting where to stand, when to jump. I got a glimpse of why it’s so expensive to stage these ballets. People coming and going on stage to correct the lighting, the director for the ensemble, the pianist, the groups of kids, the ballerinas in frothy tutus. The strains of Tchaikovsky filled the hall as soloists and groups alike performed their parts.
And then in two straight lines, like Madeline in Paris, finally came the angels streaming in from either side of the stage. Eliza was the lead person in one of group of six girls effortlessly gliding across the stage.
It might have been difficult to see which one of the identically dressed girls was Eliza had she not told me where she would be in line. She was actually first or last depending on which way they were skimming across the stage. Her costume, like the other angels, is a long sleeved white dress covered with a few scattered gold stars. The skirt ends a bit above the floor with a hoop in the hemline extending the fabric like the bottom of a lamp shade. A round halo of gold is pinned on to each girl’s head. Each angel clutches a small green Christmas tree in front of her like a bunch of flowers. Shiny gold and white wings peek high over their shoulders, and on Eliza, a broad smile gleams the entire time she’s on stage.
With bent knees under their skirts, the angels sail across the stage like skaters on a lake and then stand in silence as the sugarplum fairy performs her solo. All too soon the angels glide around and off stage. They appear once more briefly again this time each Angel carrying a golden musical instrument with many other dancers on stage as a backdrop for the Dewdrop Fairy’s solo. The glamorous stage is elaborate and colorful, dreamlike and fanciful. Even a moving sleigh and reindeer with two young children climb into the sky in back of translucent screens studded with pink and red jelly candies scattered across a gilded background of cutout shapes.
It was quite something to see the whole rehearsal so close up. Not quite as magical as it will be from my ticketed seats in tier one, but intimate and wonderful in a very special way. Each performer’s face was visible.
No picture taking is allowed. What a pity. I would have loved to have photos to capture the moment, but I didn’t dare. No one did. No. Not even with phones.
When Eliza has completed her brief time on stage, she goes backstage to watch the rest of the performance on a large screen video. Angels don’t get to bow. Was she nervous? “Yes, but once I was dancing, it was easy. I’ve practiced it so much,” she said.
Sitting next to me, seven-year old Anya was great through it all and said that she was very proud of Eliza. I’m amazed that she hasn’t shown any signs of jealousy. I was trying to explain that over the past few years, while we have seen several incarnations of The Nutcracker, this one is very special and only the top people are selected to perform at Lincoln Center. With awe and joy she said, “Then Eliza is one of the best dancers in the country!” It was so sweet and innocent and said with such pride, I didn’t have the heart to say anything to the contrary.
Tonight is opening night for The Nutcracker. With my tickets I will have to wait for another two weeks to see the whole performance, but rehearsal has already stolen my heart.