Last night on PBS I saw a new updated version of the Nutcracker performed by the San Francisco Ballet. It was very nice and there were some beautiful moments. Costumes were fantastic. I also learned a few things.
1. The San Francisco Ballet was the first ballet company in the United States.
2. It was the first company to perform the Nutcracker in the U. S. in 1944.
I love the Nutcracker and ballet in general. I can trace this love to the moment I saw the Nutcracker live and in person.
I was five. And I saw the San Francisco Ballet production.
Maria Tallchief in Swan Lake. (credit: Martha Swope)
Maria Tallchief, the first Native American prima ballerina, was the Sugarplum Fairy, a role created for her (as was the role of the Firebird) by her husband, George Balanchine. I don't remember a whole lot, but I remember enough to know, from that moment on I wanted to be a ballerina.
The story goes Mom thought I'd fall asleep, but apparently I sat on her lap for the whole show, fascinated. At the point where the prince first leaps onto the stage I turned to her and said, "But Mommy, he has no pants on!"
When we got home, Dad played the Nutcracker Suite on the record player. Apparently I danced and danced and danced, remembering and imitating things I'd just seen. From that moment on, I wanted to go up on my toes and wear those pretty costumes.
Seven years later I finally got the chance to take dance lessons when an English woman, a Mrs. Whitehill, opened a dance school. I was 12. Every Saturday I commuted all the way from St. John to St. Thomas (all by myself) to take dance. I took four years of ballet with her before she closed her school. Unfortunately I never got up on my toes. My feet, my body weren't built right.
About the time Mrs. Whitehill closed up shop, the St. Thomas School of Dance opened. I started going there and switched from ballet to tap, which I took for another four years. So once a week for eight years my feet and I got to play. I was in several major (for St. Thomas) productions. But those are stories for another time.