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21 Nutcrackers

When the snow falls the flakes
spin upon the long axis
that concerns them most intimately
two and two to make a dance

the mind dances with itself,
taking you by the hand,
your lover follows
there are always two,

yourself and the other,
the point of your shoe setting the pace,
if you break away and run
the dance is over...

- from "The Dance," William Carlos Williams, 1949

On Saturday night my daughter, a senior at college, and I went together to her 21st Nutcracker Ballet. That night the concert hall was lit from within by brightly burning chandeliers, light pooling through the tall windows, bands of gold fanning across the velvet dark. We mingled with grandmothers in vintage fur, couples strolling the grand balconies in evening jackets and ball gowns, little girls in satin bows, fathers and daughters sharing candy canes in the foyer. I bought my daughter a glass of champagne.

The ballet, performed exquisitely here in Spokane by the Memphis Ballet, retells the familiar story of Clara and her Nutcracker dancing her dream of Christmas. What held my thoughts all night however was a vivid body memory. You know what I mean, memory you can feel in your bones and heart. I was thinking of Katy at the age of two at a long ago Nutcracker Ballet. Her blond hair pulled back in a pony tail and bow, she whirled about the foyer in her sapphire velvet dress and lacy ankle socks, giggling at the way her dress ballooned out around her. This ballet was a big production, we lived in Boston. The orchestra tuned in the pit. My little one was enchanted, clicking her red Mary Janes together at the heels as she sat on my lap and waited for the show to begin.

And now here we are. She is grown, beautiful and accomplished, her dreams set on a not too distant future. Her way clear before her. And I feel as though I am still in the dark holding her again close to my heart, lightly, feeling her about to take wing.

I began attending my own Nutcrackers at about the age she is now, and through successive seasons of pas de deux, stunning bravura solos, the delicate, elegant corps de ballet under stage snow falling through the spot lights, I envisioned a future with my own children: the Christmases coming to the Nutcracker ballet, humming the Tchaikovsky score, the music sweet and dear. Laying down the bricks of our own sparkling road of Sugar Plum memories. It's a distinct feeling, the clarity of retrospection. To be of an age where the patterns of our lives begin to reveal like magic ink exposed under black light. The sense of awe and "ah!" that comes with our revelations of the dance that life has been. Snowflakes two by two. Hearts, two by two. The years twirl down and down, and a satin toe shoe spins among them, memories flying and tumbling about the dancer's feet.

Twenty-one Nutcrackers. A little girl finds her way to becoming a woman. Another woman with experience in her years holds her family in her heart, quiet in the dark of the audience. How we have grown. Where will the dance take us from here?
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