December is that magical time of year when houses are full of lights, the air has a nip in it and people are getting ready for the holiday season. It’s also the time of year when people flock to see their favorite ballet performance of Tchaikovsky’s Christmas Classic – The Nutcracker. Since my daughter started ballet, we have had an annual tradition of going to see a professional rendition of the Nutcracker, usually in San Francisco. However, in 2019, we got wind of a group Girl Scouts trip to see the Oakland Ballet Company’s Nutcracker right in our backyard. They only do 3 performances a year, so we decided to join the Girl Scouts and check out a new (to us) rendition. We walked away astonished and wanting more.
The Oakland Ballet Company performs at the historic Paramount Theater. This 1920s art deco theater in the heart of downtown Oakland is home to all kinds of performances year-round. The Ballet Company only does a few performances a year, with the Nutcracker being their key piece. It’s usually the weekend before Christmas and has two showings on Saturday and an afternoon showing on Sunday, with a dress rehearsal for school children on Friday. Doors open about an hour before the performance.
Going through the Girls Scouts, we got four tickets in the upper balcony so the whole family could attend. The kids were excited, dressed for the occasion. They were high with excitement as we entered the theater, but my husband and I took a moment to admire our beautiful surroundings. The Paramount Theater is truly like a museum, with it’s intricate carvings and glass décor that has you feeling like you have entered the jazz age. The kids admired the Christmas decorations and nutcrackers sold at the gift shop. I admired the carvings, the patterns on the rug, and the grand staircase. We all walked to our seats and settled in for the performance.
During the performance, the incredibly talented Paunika Jones starred as Marie, and immediately I was impressed. First of all, the Marie/Clara in this production was given a more prominent and difficult dance sequence than I’ve seen in Nutcrackers past. In addition, she is African American. I was excited to see the diverse cast, giving my little girl of color the chance to see different faces on the stage than what she normally sees. She has dreams of dancing like Misty Copeland in the future and I love it when the diverse talent inspires her.
The other exciting piece we saw was children. I had heard through the grapevine that they allow children to audition for parts in the Nutcracker. Honestly, it had me a little worried for this performance. I had been to one once where there was a lot of children and while it was cute, it wasn’t like watching professional ballerinas on stage. This one was different. The children had clearly practiced and were matched with more seasoned dancers who helped them through. It added a nice piece to the ballet while still being able to maintain that high-quality performance.
My husband and I couldn’t stop talking about how blown away we were by the dancing after the performance. But we still had one more incredibly special treat. We had bought tickets to the Sweet Dreams Party! This is something special the Oakland Ballet does. For an extra fee, you can go to a private area where there are treats like cookies, candy, hot chocolate, soda, and coffee (for the adults). And there, the dancers come out, mingle with the guests, pose for pictures, and autograph the guest’s playbills. We got to see the Russian Dancers, some of the child dancers, and of course, Marie! My daughter was incredibly nervous during the event but talked excitedly about the party after we left.
One of the moms at the Sweet Dreams party, was talking with my daughter and found out that she was old enough and had enough training to try out for the Nutcracker. That day, she made it a goal to try out in 2020. She took a harder ballet class, practiced each week, and was so excited to try…until July. This year was hard. I think one of the saddest days for me this year was when I had to tell my daughter that the try outs (and eventually the show) were cancelled. She was incredibly disappointed, but not deterred. This year she is back at ballet lessons, working harder than ever, and shooting for 2021.
This holiday season is different. There will be no dressing up and seeing performances on stage of the Nutcracker. But we are evolving, adapting. There are several companies who have chosen to offer their performances online, either for free or for a fee. We discussed watching a troupe this year we may never have before because we wouldn’t be there during the holiday season. This year we will try a different tradition. I’m hopeful that on December 18, 2021, we will be able to dress in our fanciest clothing and go to the Paramount theater and see a performance of some beautiful ballet. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll know one of the dancers on stage.
Update 2021: After some initial back and forth due to the vaccination requirement, we were able to get my daughter vaccinated in time, and she will be performing with the ballet as a Drummer Mouse. She is so excited and we can’t wait to dress up and see the performance in person once again.