“You were pretty as a princess, quiet as a mouse and a little bit nutcrackers,” I told my granddaughter as I gave her a hug at bedtime on Dec. 23. She just smiled, already inured to her Pop’s sense of humour at the ripe old age of four-and-a-half.
Earlier in the day we had picked Quinn up to take her to her first ever ballet, an Alberta Ballet production of The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s classic that surely features some of the most beautiful music ever written. Dressed to the nines in a lovely red and white ensemble, she was excited. On the day before, she and her grandma had spent an hour pulling out and assembling all of the The Nutcracker characters’ cardboard cutouts, which can be arranged on a pair of stages. That morning, Quinn’s mom had read her the story from a book we had given her.
When we arrived at Calgary’s Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, she was fast asleep in the backseat and still a bit groggy as we entered the building. We were there an hour early so that she could participate in the various events organized for kids — costume dress-up, colouring station, crown-making and decorating, and story time. Instead of jumping right in to the activities, she wanted to ride the escalators and check out the rest of the building. It was her first time there. Eventually, we went to the colouring station, where she got busy with crayons, enjoying the performance of a children’s choir nearby. Next we headed over to make crowns for Quinn and her little brother, Wilson, who is still a few years short of qualifying for the cultural tradition we were about to enjoy.
When we entered the main floor of the auditorium to take our seats her eyes widened at the sight of the huge stage and its painted backdrop of an old Russian city. “I bet the dancers will come out of that door,” she said, pointing to a staircase leading up to a building.
We put her into an aisle seat, which I always try to reserve for myself in any venue, as it afforded a perfect view of the stage from our seats six rows from the front. For the first hour she sat, unblinking eyes taking in every movement and character, making quiet comments to Angela, who was seated beside her. “Why do we have to clap so much?” she asked at one point, although she participated with enthusiasm.
I regularly glanced toward her, our first grandchild, and tried to remember how I felt at that age. Not that I ever attended a ballet as a four-year-old, but the sense of magic and wonder of seeing something new still revisits on occasion. I hope it’s something I never lose.
The Jubilee Auditorium was the site of some of my most memorable childhood moments. Occasionally school buses would transport our elementary school classes to watch the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra perform. The sounds that came from the stage were curious and wonderful, but eventually the demands of having to sit still and quiet for many, many, many minutes would take their toll and the sense that the performance would never end would take over. It was better when we entered the building to sing in the annual Kiwanis music festival, and much better when I walked across that stage to accept my high school diploma.
When the second act started, I wondered if Quinn would experience that same antsy-ness I used to feel as a child in that same building. She did, to a small extent, but soon settled back down and was the perfect young lady for the remainder of the show. We had purchased her ticket knowing full well that it carried a risk. There was every chance that she might just be too young to sit quietly for that length of time, but we couldn’t have been more proud at her behavior and of the obvious pleasure she showed.
She was puzzled that “the lady with the big dress” didn’t make an appearance. In her Nutcracker book, a woman wears a huge dress, from under which a bunch of kids make an appearance. But she accepted our explanation that each production of any show is different.
Quinn slept for most of the drive home. Her eyes probably needed to remoisten after a couple of hours of her not blinking enough. That she enjoyed the experience was a wonderful Christmas gift to her grandparents.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.