Christmas Traditions:The Nutcracker

Nutcracker 2

Last night, all the toys tumbled out of the toybox and magically came to life. Toy soldiers marched, Russian dancers leapt and the Sugar Plum fairy stole the show. Clara displayed her delight in a series of jetés, bourées and pirouettes with her handsome prince and kept us all enthralled.

Yes, I was in the theatre enjoying the greatest of all Christmas ballets, The Nutcracker.

Though I can`t lay claim to an educated eye on these matters, everything about this production seemed just perfect. From the second the curtain was raised, and the first dancers took their place on stage, it was clear that every single move of each hand, foot, eye was carefully choreographed and painstakingly rehearsed.

The story is an old one. Clara is given a present of a Nutcracker, formed in the shape of a toy soldier. The Nutcracker comes to life at midnight, as a handsome prince. He leads the toy soldiers in a battle against the mice, and onwards he travels with Clara through the land of sweets. These sweets delight Clara in a celebration of dance, before the famous dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy with the handsome Cavalier ends the magical journey for Clara. She awakens next morning, under the Christmas tree, holding her Nutcracker toy.

The ballet company who brought this Nutcracker to the stage, are a relatively new one on the scene. This is Monica Loughman`s School of Ballet. I`ve been intrigued by Ms Loughman ever since I read about her heading to Perm in Russia at the age of fourteen for four years to train in the prestigious ballet school there. I simply couldn`t imagine,as a parent, ever letting any of my kids head off to foreign shores on their own for that length of time. And not many kids would be brave enough to do it either.

Clearly, Monica was very determined from a very early age.

Perm was tough. Food was poor, the culture was very different and Monica has said herself that she had some serious catching up to do on her first year there, to reach the standard of the Russians.

And she did. Three years after her arrival in Perm, she was accepted into the Perm State Ballet company.

Monica returned to Ireland with all of that experience, steel and ambition and set about passing so much of that on through her training of young ballet dancers in Ireland. I caught some of her work in the television programme “Ballet Chancers” a few years ago and she certainly impressed there as one very strict teacher, demanding everything of her charges.

That discipline shows in last night`s performance. The overall effect was of stunning beauty. Everything looked natural, effortless and easy. And that only comes with sheer fitness, athleticism, grace, co-ordination. And an artistic director who insists on getting even the least finger movement correct.

The set, all larger than life, added to the dreaminess of the scene. The costumes were as stunning as they were varied. This was a visual feast.

For those of you lucky enough to live in and around Dublin, this production runs on the 21st and 22nd December in The Convention Centre. Catch it if you can.

But there are Nutcrackers in lots of venues right now. It`s a bread and butter ballet for a lot of companies as it is so popular at this time of the year. Plainly, lots of people have added it to their list of Christmas traditions.

And, after last night`s performance, I am definitely adding it to mine.

Further information:

Monica Loughman`s school of dance

Picture credit:


Bending Over Backwards

Bending Over Backwards

I have always known that I am a bendy, stretchy person. Why, one of least useful skills is the fact, that on a good day-and preferably when no one is watching -I can bend over backwards and type at the same time.

Don`t believe me? Well, see above pic. No, it`s not me. but its what I`d look like if I were performing the crab over my laptop. Except my laptop is black, not white. And I rarely wear pencil skirts.

I can touch my thumb to my forearm and touch the ground without bending my knees. Oh, and bend my little finger up into a right angle.

I never knew this bendy stretchy stuff had a name. Nor that it was, actually, a problem. At least for my running.

Twelve miles into  last October`s marathon, my feet felt like they were coming apart. If you`ve run a marathon, you`ll know how hard it is not to run it. When you`re out there, after having trained for months, you not going to let anything stop you on the day. And so, squished my feet through fourteen miles of agony after that. Yes, it was worth it.

Two weeks post marathon, I was still hobbling. I hobbled all the way to the podiatrist`s clinic. And it was there that I first heard the word: Hypermobility.

She told me that my joints can move around too freely because the ligaments are loose. And the ligaments and tendons are loose because they have too much collagen.

Great for swimming-I`ve been told my feet move really gracefully in the water.

Not so good for running.

Great for super smooth skin. (Oh,you can tell, I hate to brag.)

Not so great for ballet. At least, not from the perspective of injury.

Ah, yes, my last entry where I had dreams of being Dark Swan before Nicole Portman was ever born? Well, all that bendy stretchy stuff really is useful for dance. And gymnastics.

Mind you, the closest I got to it in reality is years and years of doing yoga.

My daughter`s ballet teacher took me aside last week. Her first lesson en pointe went well but, the ballet teacher explained, my daughter is hypermobile. From a ballet perspective, her foot looks beautiful, arches wonderfully when she is up on her toes, but, and she looked at my girl gravely as she said:

“You should never, ever try a double pirouette”

Apparently, her foot en pointe is too unstable to support her if she decides to spin about the place. Hypermobility makes her feet more prone to injury.

My girl doesn`t mind in the slightest. She likes dance but is unlikely to be treading the boards for the Bolshoi any time soon. Double pirouettes aren`t her priority.

But never mind her; this blog is all about me.Right?

I want to keep running. But without wrecking my feet. Armed with all the nightmare prognosis that internet research guarantees. I have, nevertheless, managed to find a few useful tips for my training plan.

Back come the orthotics. Seems my feet need some stability. They`ll do it for my workday.

Off come the shoes. I like to prance about the house in socks anyway. So it`s foot stretching  and strengthening time when I`m sofa bound.

Out comes the yoga mat. Back to more strengthening poses than the stretchy bendy showy offy stuff I like to do.

I`ve always love biking, and can swim reasonably well. So they`re back in as part of my running fitness.

Dammit, but I really really want another go at a marathon. Dublin, specifically. I hope I can do it.

See, there is something really special about getting into the marathon club. For me, it just always will be up there as a Lifetime Achievement thing. Up there in lights, along with the Births of My Three Children.

That is why I felt a sucker punch when son texted me about the sad happenings at the Boston Marathon. The loss of innocent lives anywhere should matter to all of us. But marathon endline is, to me, as sacred a space as any for it is full of the the very best of the human spirit.

It is the point which marks triumph over adversity.

It`s also why I`ll be glued to my TV on Sunday, watching the London Marathon. I am really excited for my fellow bloggers as they head into this. Go, all of you! You will rock. You will test yourself to the last. You will succeed. You will be SO proud of you!

The crowd will be great and I`ll be roaring too.

“Go You!”