Sunday, December 22, 2013

Day 224 - Going to the Ballet

I have never been to the ballet. In an effort to broaden my horizons with the arts during the course of my “I have never...” year, I made a promise to myself I would attend the major forms of performance I had previously never taken time to experience firsthand. Following my recent trips to the symphony and the opera, that left only ballet on my “I have never...” list, which set me to work finding a performance that I thought suitable for my first ever ballet performance. With the holiday season fast approaching, my search quickly narrowed in on Madison Ballet’s annual performance of The Nutcracker, a ballet with a storied reputation known around the world. Realizing a performance of such a classic work was likely the best way to introduce myself to the ballet, I found a day that would permit Rachael and me to attend a performance and bought a pair of tickets. With plans made to make good on my goal of experiencing the ballet for the first time, all that was left to do was to wait for the day of the performance to arrive.

Snowy day...

Unfortunately, the day of the performance greeted us with a half of a foot of fresh snowfall from the latest winter storm to bear down on Wisconsin. Although I was a bit concerned the ballet performance scheduled for today would be canceled as a result of the elements, a sudden shift in the weather this morning meant the performance would go on as scheduled. Early in the day the storm broke rapidly and revealed a beautiful, sunny sky that made moving the snow relatively easy. Although conditions were not ideal, the transition in the weather made streets and sidewalks around town easily navigable by the time Rachael and I had to leave to make it to The Nutcracker on time. As a result, we prepared ourselves for an afternoon at the theatre, and headed downtown to the Overture Center for what would undoubtedly be an experience to remember.

Finding our seats

Starting the show

Upon arriving at the theatre, Rachael and I were quick to find our seats knowing it was likely there was only a brief period between our arrival and the start of the performance. Within minutes of us taking our place among the rows of theatre chairs, the lights fell and The Nutcracker began. With a slow rise of the symphony coming together around the ballet’s overture, I leaned forward and prepared for the experience. Then, amid a bouquet of stage lights dancers began to take the stage in a scene from a city street from long ago. Silent in their movements, the dancers played out interactions between passing individuals and flawlessly transitioned into a new backdrop of a refined, massive home bustling with the activities of Christmas party clearly bearing special significance for those in attendance. I watched as characters began to develop through movement and dance, which was strange at first but quickly became familiar as the performance pressed on. The story beginning to unfold, I found myself bound to the actions on stage, doing my best to take in the whole of each scene as to not miss any part of the tale.

The opening scene

Entering a dream


The battle with the Rat King

With plot of The Nutcracker coming into full view,  I stayed fixed on the stage as the story entered into a dream state brought on by a nutcracker toy that had been gifted during the earlier Christmas celebration. Against some of the most vibrant and enchanting backdrops I have ever experienced in a live performance, the dancers took the stage and completed demanding and highly complex movements with such astounding grace it was almost impossible to believe. From seemingly endless pirouettes to various combinations of lifts and bends, the performers built the story of The Nutcracker solely with movement in a way that was completely unexpected. In all its beauty, the ballet had pulled me in, leaving me speechless as I watched the performance from my orchestra seat.

Snowflakes? Yes, I think they are snowflakes

Oddly charming

Nearing the end
Given the experience, I decided before the performance had ended that my blog entry for this experience would likely be short on words. The reality is the ballet is something that must be witnessed firsthand to truly understand how it can move a person. I never expected that to be something I would gain from this experience, but seeing the Madison Ballet dancers this evening made it impossible to come to any other conclusion. With only the music guiding them, the performers put together a story without words, without song, and without symbols. It was only their movement that told the tale, and they did it in a way that will make it stick with me for some time.

Leaving the dream

Taking a bow

My first experience with the ballet was something that surprised me in many ways. I don’t think I could have anticipated feeling enlightened from sitting through a performance of The Nutcracker, but this afternoon’s performance reminded me of the amazingly beautiful things human being are capable of doing with time and commitment. Needless to say, today helped me find a newfound respect for those people that devote their life to ballet, which, in my opinion, is the exact point where art meets athletics in our world. Stated simply, today was a beautiful experience, and I have the Madison Ballet and the Madison Symphony Orchestra to thank for that. While I’m not sure when I will find my way to the ballet in the future, I’m sure my first experience won’t be my last. I would be a fool not to experience such a beautiful thing again.

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