ORLANDO –One of the things that makes Christmas time so absolutely magical for children is, no doubt, the wondrous way that reality mixes so sublimely with fantasy. For several weeks around the Christmas season, it’s all about the fantasies coming to life.
What child hasn’t wanted so desperately to stay up all night, and wait to see Santa arrive with a bag filled with toys, or managing the sheer excitement of finding out if one of the gifts in there is that special toy they so badly wanted more than anything else this year … only to fall asleep in their parents’ arms and be carried off to bed, then to wake up the next morning and find that yes, indeed, there are boxes and boxes of gifts placed under the Christmas tree in the living room.
In fact, one of the toughest disappointments of childhood must be the year when the Santa fantasy bubble bursts, and we realize it’s not real after all. From that point on, Christmas becomes something different without that element of fantasy, and it becomes more about the hassles of gift buying, shopping in crowded malls, and so on. For many of us, now that we’ve all bill-paying, work-and-family juggling adults, the joy now more likely comes from reliving that sensation nostalgically through our children, watching their excitement at all the magical elements of the season, and enjoying the memories of how we felt when we were tiny ones, reliving a joyful childhood.
I think the spirit of that nostalgic longing may be one reason why the ballet “The Nutcracker” is a perennial favorite around the holidays. The happy mix of the music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and the soaring ballet moves by the amazingly talented performers who make up the Orlando Ballet would surely be more than enough for some people as a fine afternoon of entertainment; but done around the holiday season, the production takes on a bit more significance, I think. In a lot of ways, it’s really a grand holiday tradition in and of itself, much like the big family dinner, or the unwrapping of gifts on Christmas morning.
“The Nutcracker” does something more, though. It has the ability to envelop the audience in that world of fantasy, to capture not the spirit of Christmas as a gift-buying extravaganza, but as a piece that sweeps us back to those early childhood moments when we made no effort to distinguish between the real and the imaginary, and we loved the fact that amazing things seemed likely to happen any moment.
The Orlando Ballet is now performing its annual production of “The Nutcracker” at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre. Anything who feels like the recent burst of summer-like temperatures in Orlando makes it harder to get into the spirit of Christmas (particularly with all those television commercials that depict scenes of shoppers and travelers navigating in snowy landscapes), then this is the production for you.
It’s your way to get transported into something positively magical and in the true spirit of the holiday season. The once-upon-a-time opening transports us to an instantly recognizable and familiar place: the living room with the majestic and lavishly decorated Christmas tree in the center, and you almost expect to hear sleigh bells off in the distance. “The Nutcracker” then tells the timeless tale of a young German girl whose family is celebrating Christmas Eve with a big holiday bash. What would a Christmas party be without the opening of special gifts – one, of course, that includes one of the most easily recognizable gifts and holiday ornaments at this time of year, a wooden nutcracker.
When the party ends and the adults retire for the night, it’s that little girl who is so excited she can’t sleep, so she gets out of bed to return to the scene of the party. The nutcracker, still sitting there, is waiting for her.
Like all small children excitedly waiting for Santa, she struggles but eventually falls asleep. Her dreams become the story for us, as mice, harlequins, toy soldiers, and dolls dance across the stage — a world in which supernatural qualities are suddenly a tangible force. You’ll find yourself smiling broadly as this toyland rises and takes command of the stage, and the mice and toy soldiers charmingly dance into the night as the adults sleep. The fairy tale innocence captures our imagination and enchants us.
It’s a stunningly beautiful production, one that again highlights the talent of the play’s choreographer, Robert Hill, the artistic director of the Orlando Ballet. His brilliant choreography is absolutely dazzling, as the high energy performers harmoniously work together and never let this vivid production slow down for a second. This remains one of the great visual delights to grace the Bob Carr stage.
And it does indeed have that magical ability to transport us back to a time when we adored the imaginary elements of Christmas time, and cherished waiting for them to appear before us … if only we could stay awake long enough to see it. Oh well.
“The Nutcracker” is being performed through Monday, with shows at 2 p.m. on Sunday and 11 a.m. on Monday. The Bob Carr is at 401 W. Livingston St. in downtown Orlando. For tickets and information, call 407-426-4262.
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