carliIt was Carli’s dress rehearsal for her debut performance in “The Nutcracker,” and I arrived just in time to find the stage alive with dancing Snow Flakes during the final moments of Act One. It had been years since I’d last seen this most beloved of ballets, and from the back of the auditorium, I was instantly captured all over again by the fanciful story of Christmas Eve long, long ago and a young girl’s awakening to a world beyond her wildest dreams.

Aside from the terrifying Mouse King and the slightly unnerving Herr Drosselmeyer, the ballet is pure magic. And no matter how many times you see it, there’s always something new to notice. It’s all about perception, of course. And perception is always influenced by vantage point, proximity, and past experiences…which explains my lasting impressions of the aforementioned characters and a few other observations from the rehearsal that I hope will enlighten and brighten the holidays for you and yours.

From my initial vantage point at the rear of the auditorium, I perceived the Snow Flakes in unison. No two alike, yet no one dancer more prominent than another. For those familiar with ballet, this is the goal of the corps de ballet…to move as one, making the effect all the more beautiful by the carefully executed, collective interpretation of the choreography. After moving to the front row, during the director’s rehearsal notes, I was so close I could make out tiny details and subtle nuances. It’s amazing how proximity reveals a truer perception of things…and people. As the cast sat cross-legged on the floor, receiving last-minute direction, they looked so much younger than they had while they were dancing. The contrast was striking, making it clear that a mastery of stage presence and poise is essential to the success of both individual dancers, the corps, and the performances as a whole.

1-onstage-and-backstage-at-the-nutcracker-2011-9From this new vantage point, the stage was a blur of brightly-colored costumes, ballet buns, and heavy stage make-up. Of little mice and toy soldiers, bakers and china dolls scurrying here and there, playing the ultimate game of dress-up. The proximity allowed me to zone in on individual dancers, one in particular, with much less awareness of the company as a whole. Suddenly, all I noticed was the obvious stand-outs, whether for their natural talent and promise…or their painful lack of future possibilities in dance, along with a very perceptive and patient director who never lost sight of the purpose {fun!} and the power of having a good experience for her impressionable little students.

It was obvious to all that they were having the time of their lives. Pure joy filled the stage. And a palpable wave of nostalgia spread through the audience, as memories of distant childhood recitals, lingering disappointment over missed opportunities, and unfulfilled dreams of growing up to be a beautiful ballerina hit a little too close to home. Past experiences always color current perceptions…and our tendency to project those perceptions onto people and circumstances in adulthood makes just as obvious that we have lots to learn and much to practice in order to stay in step with those who share life with us.

That, of course, brings us back to the esprit de corps and value of a community committed to making observations and sharing what they notice…because things can get blurry sometimes. And even though we know “life’s not a dress rehearsal,” trying to “perform” our way through life doesn’t work, and any successful dancer will confirm the cost, in years of lessons, discipline, and rehearsals, of fulfilling the dream of dancing center-stage in a principal role.

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And the same is true for all of us, if we’re to take center-stage in our lives with the poise and power of authentic presence that captures audiences, large and small, and leaves an enduring impression. May the wonder of Christmas capture your heart all over again, and reawaken the dreams that stir the courage to take your place in the world…and have the time of your life!

Merry Christmas from the UnbridledACTS family to yours!

Love Julie