The Nutcracker


I once had my fortune told. I cannot remember all that was said, though I do recall thinking that he nailed my past and present like he’d been there with me throughout my whole life. The future I was not so convinced about, but now some 20 years later, he seemed to nail that as well.                                                            

One that he told me that kind of etched itself into my head was, “You will never be wealthy my friend. But you will always appear to be so.” Not really what I wanted to hear but then on the bright side ‘all care and no responsibility’ took on a whole new meaning.

I have a Facebook page and my friends and followers know that my wife and I like to travel.  We try to get away once every two years if we can. We plan ahead, look for bargains and consequently, look like we live the high life on these occasions. It is doable, with style, if you take time to make the effort.

All this is by the by. For my wife’s birthday this year, I took her to the ballet to see The Nutcracker. We have done many things together but never had we shared the experience of ballet. I went online and looked at the available dates, plotted the seating then rang the theatre. I enquired about various prices, got chatting and yes, there were discounts for seniors… and I ended up with two wonderfully placed seats.  As it worked out we got to see the final night of the season which coincided oddly with the AFL Grand Final – and it was spectacular. The ballet, I mean.

As part of my gift, I also arranged a room at the Savoy in Little Collins Street so we wouldn’t have to drive or take public transport. Now I know this looks pretty lush on paper, but for whatever reason, it rates as a 4-star hotel. Having stayed there now, I would happily give it 5. When I booked the room directly and explained that not only was I looking for a room for my wife’s birthday – but also our wedding anniversary.  The concierge took the cue and upgraded the modest room that was all I could afford to something far grander.  We could spread out and lay about… we had beautiful city views. It certainly was an experience.

the nutcracker
Revolutions: Records and Rebels exhibition at the Melbourne Museum

Because we were staying in the city for the weekend we decided to check out the Revolutions: Records and Rebels exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. It was fantastic. Kind of odd in a way being old enough to vividly recall and relate to the whole trip. The fashion, seeing handwritten lyrics of John Lennon,  his suit that he wore on the Sgt Peppers album cover we unbelievably cool. Equally so were Jane Fonda’s Barbarella costume and Roger Daltry’s iconic fringed suit he wore at Woodstock. There was so much to see and take in that I almost had a sensory overload. And all the stunning visuals accompanied via a headset all to a soundtrack of the music that related to the times and relative themes. It was a blast.

After wandering around the museum for a couple of hours we made our way back to the hotel to dress for the evening out at the Nutcracker. Joey (my wife) looked gorgeous in a golden ‘cocktail’ mini and a black full length hooded opera cloak that she found for a bargain on eBay. She looked stunning.  I was content to don a black velvet suit and dress shirt that I had found in an op shop. Freakishly large enough to fit me to perfection. I topped the outfit off with a beautiful pair of cufflinks that were part of her anniversary gift to me. We caught a taxi to The State Theatre and had just enough time to down a glass of champagne each before making our way to our seats.

There is something so magical and old-worldly about the general buzz of hushed conversation as people settle into their seats as the orchestra goes about its business of tuning up their instruments.  A subtle subdued cacophony quiet expectation and anticipation. It took me back to one of my fondest childhood memories when my mother, bless her, took me to see a live production of the Wizard of OZ.  I would have been all of 4 years old but I remember it vividly.

As if prearranged, a sudden hush descends upon the audience. The orchestra started up and I looked into my wife’s eyes. They are sparkling like diamonds. We clasp each other’s hands as the curtain lifted to present one of the most stunning stage sets I have ever seen. It looked like a huge oil painting. I have read that ideally, that in a motion picture (movie) that every frame should look like a painting. That is exactly what the dancers, placed in the set,  frozen in time and gathered around a beautiful Christmas tree looked like. The work f a master. The lighting and texture combined with the vivid colours were breathtaking.  

Time and my heart stood still. Then the music began and the dancers came to life. So fluid was it all as t be like a living dream. I swear I had tears in my eyes for the first 20 minutes. The sweeping score of the orchestra, the colour of the set and costuming and the ebb and flow of the dancers was breathtaking.  It was magic. We were transported to another world and another time.

There were to moments that absolutely stunned me. The first was when the magician shrunk down the lead dancer to the size of a mouse. The mechanics of the set somehow ‘grew the Christmas tree to the size of giant redwood cedar and with clever lighting and I imagine the art of misdirection the toys (a box of toy soldiers being the focus were all suddenly ‘life-size”… I felt like a child in a waking dream.  There was a battle between the soldiers led by the Nutcracker against an army of rather militant mice. Again the costuming was magnificent. There is no C.G. in ballet. The fact that all this was ‘real’ made it even more exhilarating.

The other moment was a little more surreal. During our travels, twice and most unexpectedly we had experiences with snow.  Once was during a brief stay in Memphis where it might snow once in a year and another time when we went to stay in Joshua Tree. We were only there for an overnight stay and it snowed – covering the dessert surrounds in a deep blanket of virgin snow. It was one of the most beautiful sites I ever saw. Apparently it does snow from time to time in Joshua Tree – locals said the last fall was back in 2012. The point of this diversion is as I watched the sets morphing once again into a forest setting I thought to myself, the only thing that would make this complete would be if it snowed.

Then it did. I thought my heart would leap from my chest. I turned to my wife and she was thinking and feeling the same thing! Life never fails to amaze. It is funny how certain events or happenings can become such a part of the tapestry woven about us. Snow fell to the stage as the fairies danced and the music flurried and eddied. It was once again, stunningly beautiful.

Something else that made the night, or performance that much more special, was that because it was the final performance, after each dancers ‘set-piece’ (I am sorry I do not know the correct terms as all this was a new experience for me) the dancers or principles(?) were allowed to take a bow. The resounding applause made their efforts so more tangible by way of appreciation. It was such a wonderful mark of respect.

The performance was simply enchanting. Before we could believe it, it was done. There was a series of curtain calls and ever booming rounds of applause. The conductor was presented, and she, in turn, directed the applause to the musicians in the pit. The whole ensemble joined the rest of us in drowning them with the same handclapping appreciation.

We exited the theatre exhilarated. As deliriously happy as the thousands of Richmond supporters that were flooding the city post final. More diverse coupling of cultures I don’t think I have ever seen. My wife and I strolled along Southbank, marveling at the beauty of the city at night. The Yarra was peaceful and calm, awash with the city’s blazing lights. It is so easy to forget just how beautiful Melbourne can be.

We went back to the Savoy and raided the food supplies we had brought in with us. Room service is cool, but when you are budgeting it’s not a bad idea to drop into your local supermarket or deli and stack up on things like cheeses, crackers, and pate. We always take in our own alcohol – in this case, some champagne and a dessert wine my brother had given to me on my recent birthday.

I was telling a friend about all this. He said he loved the ballet but could not afford it. I explained that it wasn’t as expensive as he might think, there are various areas of seating that range in price, but even ‘premium’ was not that bad. I told my friend,  ‘Yes, I had to save to afford the experience’ to which he replied ‘Exactly, if you have to save for it, I definitely can’t afford it.’ That’s when I recalled – and not for the first time – the words of the fortune-teller. Looks can be deceiving, For all intent and purpose, I am pretty much a semi-retired musician. I am lucky to work once a week sometimes once a fortnight…                                

This is my choice, by the way. I love to play, but I also like to keep it exciting. It is something I can really look forward to. My wife works and has a good job, well paid – but is beside the point. This was my treat.

I did a comparative test. I looked at the ticket price for the Grand Final that was played the same night. The prices were on par with those of the ballet. People tend to think the theatre and the arts are the sole province of the well to do. I am happy to say that this is not necessarily true.

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