Before we go into the continuing Carnival of the Animals discussion, a little talk about what is going on at the company.
We all returned from Colorado Springs with a minimum of drama. Our hotel, the Antlers Hilton, was its usual resplendent self.
My annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Ritz went off without a hitch. I bought a shirt at a Tibetan Clothing Store.
There was a tiny drama of huge proportions.
It dealt with rats. Little rats. Little baby rats.
For those not in-the-know, the dramatic highpoint of the first act of the Nutcracker is a fierce battle between a bunch of mice and a box of tin soldiers.
Our young heroine, Clara, sneaks downstairs after everyone has gone to sleep. She is looking for a gift that her godfather, the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer gave her during the festivities, a nutcracker in the shape of a soldier.
While she is searching the living room around her starts to grow (or is she shrinking? or is she dreaming?), until she is no bigger than the dolls and toys that she was playing with earlier. She finds the Nutcracker, who now coincidentally resembles the attractive young nephew of her godfather and suddenly all heck brakes loose.
Mice (led by a fearsome Mouse King) appear from everywhere and engage the Nutcracker (and his army of toy soldiers) in a terrible (if pint-sized battle.)
Just when it looks as if the Mouse King is going to overcome the Nutcracker, Clara comes to the rescue by throwing her shoe at the royal rodent... killing him.
Clara and the Nutcracker then zoom off through the Land of Snow and on to the Kingdom of the Sweets and Act Two.
Well in our version, there are a few differences. We don't have mice. We have RATS! Fearsome soldier rats! The music for the fight scene always struck me as having a very silent movie type of quality. So the rats have a silent movie villain essence to them.
The Rat King has a bit of Ming the Merciless from the old Flash Gordon serials in him. Sending his underling rats to certain doom. He is accompanied by a vampish, Theda Bara-like Queen Rat and their maniacal tiny trio of offspring... the dreaded Baby Rats. In addition, we have a legion of soldier rats with scimitars.
Our Clara doesn't throw her shoe at the Rat King. She whacks him over the head with it. As you would normally kill a rat. The final strains of the fight scene are given to the Queen Rat on a barestage, who bourees off stage in complete devastation. (She is actually doing an imitation of Margot Fonteyn's famous exit in a ballet called Margurite and Armand, which was a version of Camille).
Now, in the canon of desirable arts in the SDB production of the Nutcracker, none are so prized as the Baby Rats. The Baby Rats, complete with pink bows in their ears and diapered behinds, take a special type of child performer.
Now remember we are dealing with 6 year olds. So they need to be smart and confident. There is a lot of running around in the fight scene...
Clara, the Nutcracker, King Rat, Queen Rat, Sword Rats, Gun Rats, Senior Soldiers, Junior Soldiers, Cavalry Soldiers, Me (as Herr Drosselmeyer) and...
So they need to be able to remember when and where to run, so they can look as if they are getting underfoot without actually getting under someone's foot and getting squashed. All while behind a mask.
There are 3 of them, so I doubt that their parents can tell which one is which.
And they are really only onstage for less than 3 minutes.
But the audience loves them.
Sometimes when we go on tour, we do not cast any Baby Rats, simply because the part takes a bit of rehearsal for safety's sake. But in Colorado Springs, we have them. And they made it on and performed brilliantly at their first show....
Unfortunately, at the second show, they did not make it onstage. Due to a mix-up backstage, they were whisked back to their dressing room before they had actually ventured onstage. So 3 6-year old girls didn't make it onstage for their 3 minute faceless run across the stage...
It was the largest calamity known to mankind.
I don't want to make light of it. Of course, the 3 little girls were crying and upset. But mistakes happen, it is a testament to our backstage workers that more mistakes don't occur given the age of the children involved in the Nutcracker. But try telling that to a 6 year old... or her mother.
Well, anyway, we had some extra Sugarbabe costumes (the Sugar Plum Fairy's riny lollypop bearing attendants), so we plopped them on the girls and sat them up on the throne next to the Sugar Plum Fairy for all of Act Two. The upset children seemed quite satisfied that not only did they get to sit on the throne, but they didn't have to wear the scratchy arm poofs that the rest of the Sugarbabes had to wear.
So rather, than 3 minutes of anonymity scrambling about, they got to be onstage for all of the second act in pretty pink tutus for their parents and grandparents to admire.
So yes, sometimes in the life of a ballet director... its all about crying baby rats... and their moms.