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As Long as We Remember...

December 23, 2008

My Traditional "Nutcracker" Tribute

Roy Meachum

This was written the first Christmas after I started my Frederick column; that was in 1984. It was revived over the years because of requests from mothers and ex-mice; some could now be mothers in their own right.


With a low and sweeping, very theatrical reverence as they do in ballet:


Patrick Street Mice


Ignore the calendar. Christmas Eve arrives in Frederick days earlier. Ask any of the mice scurrying along Patrick Street, east and west.


Of course, it takes a practiced eye to recognize these special mice; they are disguised as small girls. But you can know them by the splendor of their grace.


Some mice reveal themselves by white tights peeking beneath their snow parkas, and the way they wear their hair; carefully coiffed in curls or pulled back starkly from faces made more beautiful with all the inner excitement-and the jitters.


They're entitled to their nerves. These special mice carry the heavy responsibility of a legendary tradition rooted in Imperial Russia and footed in the visionary genius of a man named Marius Petipa.


Petipa even had the powers to call forth a lilting happy spirit buried deep inside the melancholy of composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.


You can hear that lilting happiness for yourself and witness the arrival of Christmas Eve weeks earlier. And those small, graceful girls came on the Weinberg Center stage as the mice they became.


BOYS LEARN early not to show their emotions, not in our Anglo Saxon society. Males are not permitted to cry. Even an easy smile can be viewed with suspicion.


Under no such constraints, the girls of the Maryland Regional Ballet smiled all over East Patrick Street this season. One sunny afternoon three of them, arm-in-arm, giggled as they skipped along the sidewalk; their white tights and carefully arranged hair announced to the world their proud status as ballet dancers!


There are tears. I've seen none here on the street. But I have observed "Nutcracker" rehearsals. At another Christmas, I kissed tear-wet cheeks and held in my arms sobbing girls, frustrated with their flubs, doubting their talents and themselves.


IF opening night's performance promised the best day of their lives, the night before may have been the worst so far.


For Patrick Street mice, sleep comes hard in anticipation, from the tension and the excitement and because of their burning desire for personal perfection.


Even a mouse can have her pride – especially when she is a mouse burning to be the Snow Queen. I remember those other girls. After their first performance, I watched them strut from the stage, their backs arched, their tummies flattened and their heads held high.


One of them became a principal dancer with a New York company. I thought her tears would never dry that day of rehearsal frustration.


TO THE SPECIAL MICE of Patrick Street: a grateful kiss. You have brightened my life all these rehearsal weeks. To each of you: a rose from my thoughts.


And in the best tradition: Brech ein Bein: break a leg in Yiddish becomes the ultimate theatrical blessing.


ONCE MORE the Weinberg Center stage was kissed by snow. A Christmas tree grew heavenward and before your very eyes.


And a special little girl's dream fantasy came alive – including a jolly battle between toy soldiers and an army of mice, led by King Rat, as fearsome a critter as Groucho Marx.


I cannot imagine any one of any age not enjoying the spectacle, the wondrous music of Tchaikovsky and the magic of Petipa.


"Nutcracker" can be particularly recommended for those who are slow starters in getting the Christmas spirit: not a problem for anyone dancing with the Maryland Regional Ballet this fantastic weekend.


For the young ballet students, the holidays started long before Thanksgiving, their first time at the bar. It intensified when they were finally selected for this year's performances. They shared their joy and excitement around Square Corner, popping up in shops, generally accompanied by proud mothers.


In the days that followed, they presented a cavalcade of grace: each girl brimming with triumph and with pleasure. For most, this holiday season is the absolute highlight of their young lives. Maybe even more important than for a boy playing his first high school football game. But maybe no comparison is really possible.


Besides how can we really tell?


MICE LIVE in a special world, quite apart from everyone else's boring normal life. God bless them all as they all bless us! Year after year!


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