Sunday, December 13, 2009

Nutcracker Sweet

Today is the final performance of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, by the Owen/Cox Dance Group and company.

The Friday and Saturday shows were sell-outs. Fortunately, I had my tickets ahead of time, and we got there way early so Annabelle and I had seats on the front row both nights. We were just a few yards from the stage. The dancers seemed close enough to touch at times.

Because the show was sold out, the start of the show was delayed as theater staff searched for empty seats and brought in extra chairs, trying to squeeze people in.

We knew the show was finally about to start when the band filed in behind the stage and took their places. The People's Liberation Big Band features not only the expected brass and woodwinds, piano, bass and drums, but a toy piano, bongos, and a set of chimes from Bali known as a jublag. Brad Cox plays keyboard on some numbers, while Roger plays piano.

It is such a thrill when the theater goes dark and you know the show is about to begin. In that darkness stepped a figure--Brad Cox---lit by a spotlight, wearing an enormous, white, crazy-haired wig and a bizarre cape constructed of yellow and black balls. He banged on a cowbell and then stepped up to the band where he began directing them madly, as they exploded into a free jazz frenzy.

After a few minutes of this, they settled down and as they began playing something closer to Tchaikovsky, the first set of dancers came out.

The last number in the first act is Waltz of the Snowflakes. As the band launches into the music, I see the Narrator lowering his microphone, and I know he is putting it down to Lilah's height, which means she is about to come onstage.

During the Waltz of the Snowflakes, an abundance of dancers fill the stage, wearing shiny, tinsely metal sleeves, and moving so rapidly that they are as blinding and dizzying as a flurry of snow. There is a moment when they are as thick as a blizzard, and then they separate and leave more space between them, and it is then that Lilah suddenly appears from backstage in her shiny metal dress, and steps up the microphone. If that isn't a goose-bumpy, veclempting moment for a mother I don't know what is.

She sounded wonderful. She might have held back a little on the previous night, but last night her first night jitters were behind her and she sang confidently and beautifully, her delicate voice a charming backdrop to the dancer's graceful movements. I beamed with pride.

One of my favorite parts of the show, aside from Lilah's bit of course, is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the second act, danced by Jennifer Owen, who is also the dance director and choreographer. She evokes kind of a dancehall/saloon/vaudeville trampiness and the music is weird and off-kilter, sounding both boozy and dusty, as if the strains of some old player piano are being channelled. Roger said that Brad got that effect by playing the keyboard through an effects processor, which distorts the notes, while someone else played the toy piano.

After the show, we got to go backstage. I caught a glimpse of one of the male dancers, in only his black tights. The green room is really green. On the first night, I was amused to see three portable sewing machines sitting on the floor. The two costume designers were there, saying you never know when you have to make sudden repairs, and that Peggy had indeed been sewing during the show.

Peggy Noland and Peregrine Honig---the two designers ---I am in love with these women. The costumes they created were brilliant and original. Peregrine is an artist who has exhibited her artwork around the country. Peggy is a self-taught designer, who sells her own line of avante-garde clothing in a boutique in the Crossroads art district. Both women were both dressed in the most unique and creative ways. Peggy, who had designed most of the costumes, was wearing an outfit covered with polka dots.

It turns out that the silver dress Lilah wears for the show actually belongs to Peregrine. Peggy made it for her, along with the bunny ears hat, and Peregrine wears it, hat and all. Peregrine was laughing that when she wears the dress, it is quite a bit shorter on her, and looks a bit more improper than it does on Lilah. But it fits Lilah perfectly, though she opted not to wear the bunny/space alien hat. It was a struggle just getting her to let me photograph her in it.

Peregrine was in the green room the night of the first show as I was trying to coax Lilah into a picture. She agreed with me that Lilah would regret not having a record of it. For alas, we must give the silver dress and bunny hat back after the show. But Peregrine, who is a very nice person and was lovely to Lilah, said that Lilah could borrow it sometime if she wanted.


  1. your writing is so very descriptive and so i totally could visualize the dance of the snowflakes. and lilah's performance. so, where's the photo of her?? can't wait to see it!

  2. I wish I had gone. You need some pics of Lilah in her costume!

  3. I want to see pics of Lilah in this costume too! I love Peregrine Honig's drawings. I have some of them. Great writing, Simone. I like your description of Lilah's entrance.