Miami City Balet

It’s weird and it’s not weird that I love The Nutcracker so much.

I’m Jewish, and Jews aren’t supposed to celebrate Christmas; I also don’t know much about ballet, and The Nutcracker has been and always will be a ballet.

This year I saw the Miami City Ballet perform The Nutcracker. It was a traditional performance, at the golden and cavernous Adrienne Arsht center in downtown Miami. The crowd was, as is typical for Nutcracker performances, an odd mix: parents with their young children, rich guys with their dates popping out of their black dresses, and elderly old-money couples wearing shawls upon shawls in the first six rows.

I’ve seen The Nutcracker so many times, and each time is different, and each time it’s beautiful. It’s basically a story trapped in time. We’re supposed to believe that a bunch of rich kids go crazy over a functional gift that we now relegate to little more than an ornament. If you’re willing to suspend that disbelief, then you can fall right into the magician godfather’s spell that brings the play to life.

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Photo: Miami City Ballet

If you’re sitting in the fourth-tier balcony, then the gender-bending casting can fool you. But if you’re up close, there’s no mistaking that of the dozen and a half children who are supposed to be half boys and half girls, almost all of them are girls pretending to be boys, including the main troublemaking boy who breaks the nutcracker and sends the girls into a frenzy.

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Photo: Miami City Ballet

All of this foolery is a good thing. The Nutcracker was never supposed to be taken seriously, and even in the most conventional performances, the standard jokes are self-deprecating and self-aware. It doesn’t matter that if you look closely enough to the side of the stage you can see the snowflake ballerinas talking to each other before they glide out onto the floor to prance around in the confetti-snow. Or that the sleigh that pulls the children into the sky at the end of the dream is hauled by thick, heavy-duty wires tied to a pulley stories above us.

This year’s top holiday shopping gifts in the real world are the iPad Air, the Xbox One, and a half-dozen other wired-up gadgets like the Chromecast, the Samsung Galaxy S4, and the 60-inch Vizio TV. They’ll all be antiques by Christmas 2014. (Remember Nintendo 64?) It’s almost impossible to imagine children today going nuts over dolls, nithing polls, and wooden soldiers that break walnuts in their mouths.

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That’s probably why The Nutcracker works so well as an idea today, along with all the pageantry of the dances and the dresses and the flirtatious music. When we watch Marie fall asleep with her magical nutcracker, we’re fully in love with the idea of living in a time when all we want is a simple gift, and waking up to the sugar plum fairies and the Chinese flutes and the Russian hoop dancers and the Arabian seductress and the frolicking flowers is a totally believable outcome.

Photo: Miami City Ballet

Without trying, the Miami City Ballet awoke into this multicultural dream as well — their dancers are from all around the world. They’re doing impossible things — at one point, the ice prince pulled the ice princess along the stage while she balanced on her toe, as if she were skating on a frozen lake before us. And perhaps what brings us further into the child’s imagination is that throughout the entire second act, which features the most recognizable Tchaikovsky dances, Marie and Fritz are doing exactly what we are: watching the ballet. It’s only when they’re lifted to the sky by an enchanted chariot that we can awake.

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Photo: Miami City Ballet

We don’t really know what happens to Marie once she wakes up. But we know that she doesn’t sit around on Christmas morning watching Boardwalk Empire on her iPad Air. I never got a nutcracker — all I had were dreidels. And I didn’t get an iPad for Hanukkah this year. But for two hours, I did get to share a timeless dream.

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I like to believe that Marie keeps that nutcracker forever.