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The glitter, dazzle and stress of ‘The Nutcracker’

Katie Shaffer, Sierra Sun columnist

Over the years I have worked at creating traditions for my family that hold meaning at this time of year. One tradition that has unfolded for my family actually had nothing to do with my influence, but has come about thanks to my children’s interest in dance.

Six years ago I bought tickets to see a local production of “The Nutcracker.” My children wanted to be in the show, but since I knew nothing about try-out dates, I suggested we go and check it out instead.

Well, the show was dazzling in the eyes of my kids, and so the following January, both girls were enrolled in ballet class, and a new family tradition was born.

The following December both of my daughters danced in “The Nutcracker,” each performing on stage for about two minutes after many weeks of rehearsal. It was as wonderful as they had ever dreamed.

It turned out that one of my kids wasn’t truly interested in the precise movements of ballet. Eventually she moved on to jazz and hip-hop. Now she spends her time playing trumpet and volleyball.

My other child, however, has stuck with ballet and just wrapped up her fifth season playing various parts in “The Nutcracker.”

The local production of “The Nutcracker” typically involves more than 100 dancers ranging in age from 3 years old to adults. There are other “Nutcracker” performances that local dancers can participate in, held either in Reno or at South Lake Tahoe.

I’ve heard about these other “Nutcrackers” through the elite talk that some parents engage in, in which you are informed that their daughter is dancing with the Oakland Ballet complete with a real symphony seated below the stage. Ah, well, my children dance to the same old piped-in Tchaikovsky soundtrack at our small high school stage, and if you love your children and our town the way most of us do, this is the “Nutcracker” to see.

I will take our local production any day, in which 20 glittering angels spin across the stage, bumping into each other and all the while you are searching the faces, looking for those two or three angels that you know. “Oh, there’s Hanna, and there’s Clare! Aren’t they adorable?”

The lost Cookie who can’t find her way back underneath Mother Oreo’s skirt always steals the show, and there’s usually at least one young bossy dancer who instructs her peers on when to bow.

Then there is our own homegrown, graceful-as-a-swan Sugar Plum Fairy, who maybe made a few missteps at the last show, but she covered up beautifully. My daughter informed me that it was easy to slip because the stage was apparently covered with trails of glitter.

Our local production of “The Nutcracker” provides a chance for home-schooled kids to mix in with the public school kids, all working together to pull off a magical show.

This year I decided that my whole family should see our daughter perform in one of the shows held at The Cal-Neva. I thought that the stage was larger and therefore better, and I like sitting in those big round booths at the back of the room. But on the last night of the performances, and the one held at Tahoe-Truckee High School, I stood at the back of the sell-out crowd so that I could watch my daughter dance as an Arabian Princess one last time. You couldn’t help but be swept away by the rousing applause of the audience. In an instant, I realized that Truckee was the best place to see our own very special version of “The Nutcracker.”

Supporting your children in “The Nutcracker” is not a simple undertaking. It seems there’s always some hitch to the endless details. I’ve had conversations with my child such as “You mean your best pair of pink tights that I just bought suddenly have a run in them?” Or, “You’re just now telling me that you need three yards of silk ribbon from the fabric store?”

Last year, in the middle of a performance, several backstage helpers suddenly determined that my child was missing her costume for Act II. During intermission my husband and I raced home, located the costume, and headed back to the high school, cutting through the Mountain Hardware parking lot to avoid a red light. We handed off the costume to a miracle worker who managed to redress my child and have her out on stage moments later.

There always seems to be a certain level of stress, but as it is with most of my kids’ endeavors, in the end I’m always able to say what a great experience it was.

I’d like to thank Sherrie Petersen and Elizabeth Archer of Sierra Nevada Dance who give to the children of this town a tremendous dance experience that many of us appreciate and treasure.

Katie Shaffer has lived in Truckee since 1981.


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