I danced my last Nutcracker in 1996, but my husband is still performing, year after year, as the Sugarplum Fairy cavalier. He has known some of the ballet students since they were soldiers in the Battle Scene.
Every Saturday from September to December, my husband rehearses and coaches the girls he will dance with. As an extra bonus for me, he takes our children with him. Our daughter Chiara has been attending Nutcracker rehearsals since she was seven months old. She loves it. For the past three years she’s been right beside him onstage.
Her first Nutcracker as a spectator at just under two years old, however, was a little different. By the time she was a year and ten months, she was sitting through two-hour dress rehearsals without incident. So I thought nothing of taking her to an actual performance to see Daddy dance.
As soon as she saw him jete’ onstage at the beginning of the second act she yelled out, “Dadd-deeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!” Not in a “bravo” kind of voice, but with the voice you use to warn someone that they’re about to be hit by a bus. All the dancers onstage smiled a little harder. One of the candy canes suppressed a giggle.
When Matt made his first exit into the wings, Chiara burst into tears.
I think she thought he fell off the face of the earth.
“Where Daddy? Where Daddy?” she kept asking. I’d tell her: first there’s the Spanish variation, then Arabian, Chinese, Russian, Merlitons, Mother Ginger, Waltz of the Flowers, and then Daddy.
After the last flower waltzed away, the lights lowered and the soft music of the Sugarplum Fairy pas de deux began to twinkle.
“Dadd-deeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!” Chiara yelled when she saw her father escort the Sugarplum onto the stage.
“Shhhhhh. . .” from the row in front of us. They were the ushers.
An usher hissed at us again.
I scooped my daughter up in my arms made a hasty exit. With the secret toddler ninja wiggle that makes kids both slippery and brick-like, Chiara broke free and ran to the doors leading back into the theatre.
“Da-dddddddeeeeeee!!!!” She pounded her tiny fists on the door, doing her best Brando from Streetcar.
She was even more hysterical there in the foyer, so we went back in.
Even in the dark I could feel the ushers’ steel glares. Would we be asked to leave? It is a kid’s ballet, after all.
Chiara stopped sobbing, but she continued to call out from time to time. On stage my husband gracefully promenaded his lovely partner. He was beaming. He’s dancing for his little girl. Why should we leave?
Every time Chiara called for him, Matt and the Sugarplum smiled a little broader, sharing this inside joke with everyone else in the theatre who had seen our daughter at the front of the rehearsal studio next to the mirrors eating her morning snack and watching her Daddy dance.
Chiara is a fixture at these Saturday rehearsals in the ballet studio, but the real fixture is my husband. If you are a parent of a kid in this show, you know him. He entertained your daughter backstage when she was an angel in the prologue. He taught her how to do finger turns and supported lifts during pas de deux class. And if your kid is a boy, my husband taught him fart jokes. If you are remotely involved with your child’s pre-professional ballet career, you adore my husband. And you probably know Chiara as well.
So if a little girl crying for her daddy is ruining the show for you, maybe you should lighten up.
Which is more or less what I told those ushers.