The Casual Blog

Tag: Nutcracker

Delicious pears and a magnificent Sugar Plum

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One of my favorite things in the holiday season is Harry and David’s Royal Riviera Pears. Every year, we get a box from Sally’s dear godmother (whom I’ve never met), and every year they are incredibly sweet and dripping with deliciousness. So it was this week. You may have seen the Harry and David’s ads and wondered whether a mere fruit could ever be an appropriate holiday gift. Well, my view is yes. They are amazing: the fruit of the gods!

The Nutcracker ballet is another great seasonal treat. It endures because there are a lot of things to like: a great Tchaikovsky score, a story with recognizable characters, a bit of naughtiness, and a lot of sweetness. The Carolina Ballet production has gorgeous costumes and sets. There are a lot of children in the production, who seemed particularly young and touching this year. But the main reason I go to see it is for the wonderful dancers in solos, small ensembles, and choruses.
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Saturday evening Alyssa Pilger, our pointe shoe sponsoree and friend, made her debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy on Saturday. As a dancer, Alyssa has a natural elegance about her. She seems at first delicate, but then there is also a quality that’s almost fierce. Her moments of stillness don’t seem like rests or pauses, but rather radiate energy. She has a musician’s musicality, which goes beyond just staying with the basic rhythmic framework, to understanding it deeply and realizing when and how it can be creatively opposed.

Sugar Plum is a big role. It makes little girls want to be ballerinas, while transporting the big boys and girls to transcendent place. Alyssa rose to the occasion. Her technique was impeccable, as fluent in adagio as in allegro. And there was that extra something, that expressive spark. I got goosebumps, and, I admit it, tears from both eyes. It was so beautiful!

It was, for me, Alyssa’s night, but I need to mention that Adam Crawford Chavis as her partner, the Cavalier, was also wonderful. He’s big and handsome, and amazingly poised and strong. Their pas de deux was intensely romantic. The crowd gave them long and loud hurrahs.
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Re the pictures, this weekend I continued, and concluded for the year, my project of visiting and photographing local parks I didn’t already know well. I went up to Falls Lake on Saturday morning to Blue Jay Point, and then again on Sunday to Rolling View. It was clear and bright and cold both days, and there were almost no people. I also spent some time experimenting with my new Nikon SB910 speedlight in making the portrait here of a Harry and David’s pear sitting on my piano. Afterwards, I ate that pear, which was delicious.

The Casual Blog will be on a holiday break for the last couple of weekends, while we’re traveling. I’m hoping to have some pictures of pretty tropical fish when we return. For my dear readers who celebrate Christmas, I wish you a merry one.
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Thanksgiving in New York

There’s just something electric about New York City! Flying in last Wednesday, I passed close to the Statue of Liberty. Liberty! Then the splendid dense verticality lower Manhattan, and the gleaming skyscraping icons of midtown. It’s Oz!

The original plan for the Tiller clan to meet up for an urban Thanksgiving got off to a rocky start because Stuart, our dog, appeared to be dying. He threw up all over the apartment for a couple of days, and then spent several days in the animal hospital unable to eat. Exploratory abdominal surgery failed to yield a clear diagnosis, but made him weaker still. The day before we were scheduled to leave for NYC, Sally declared she couldn’t stand the thought of his being miserable and alone at the end. He’d been a beloved friend to us for eight years. So she decided to bring him home for hospice care. She urged me to proceed with the plan to meet the kids, who were already there, and so I headed north, with mixed feelings. (P.S. Stuart started improving the day after Sally brought him home and is still with us, frail but looking perkier every day.)

Wednesday afternoon I rendezvoused with Gabe and Jocelyn at the Hotel @ Times Square, a modestly priced (by NYC standards) but clean establishment at a great midtown location. Jocelyn was just back from two months backpacking in Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru, and I was delighted and relieved to see her. Not a day went by during her trip when I didn’t worry about her being kidnapped or worse. She seemed very chipper and glad to be back to the land of flush toilets and hot showers. Gabe came in from Colorado looking handsome, hale and hearty.

I was so glad to see them, and so glad to be back in NYC! When I lived there in my twenties, I could ordinarily not afford taxis, and it was satisfying to take many cab rides with the kids to share some of my favorite places. We went to the Metropolitan Museum and I introduced them to some of my favorite paintings, including the Vermeers. We checked out the amazing holiday windows in the shops on Fifth Avenue, and maneuvered through the mobs of people at Times Square.

On Thanksgiving morning, we’d planned to go to the Macy’s parade, which was passing just a block and a half to the west, but Jocelyn’s left eye was hurting badly, possibly from an infection. We watched a couple of big balloons (including Horton) go by, and then we went looking for medical care. With my iPhone I located an urgent care clinic close by, but it was closed, and the next one we tried was closed as well. We ended up in the emergency room of NYU Bellevue. I expected an endless wait, but it was not so bad. They got us in and out in a couple of hours, and Jocelyn started to feel better soon after.

For Thanksgiving dinner, we went to the upper west side and shared a fine meal with Sally’s brother Bill, his wife Mary Jane, and their daughter Carmen. Everyone was in high spirits, and I was most grateful that they provided delicious non-meat food. Bill was eager to hear more of Jocelyn’s South American journey, and she had some good stories of jungle adventures with snakes and spiders and marathon bus rides. Carmen, now thirteen, seemed amazingly grown up and well spoken. She’d just applied to an arts high school for both acting and piano performance, and played her audition piece, a Haydn sonata.

On Friday, we got a personal tour of the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange and ate lunch in Chinatown. Late that afternoon, Gabe and I went to the Museum of Modern Art. Gabe was interested in Picasso and Van Gogh, and I never get tired of them. I also spent some time with the J. Pollocks. The big big drip painting finally clicked for me (goose bumps). We met Jocelyn and her friend Pam at a little Italian restaurant on the east side. Pam is an art world person and aspiring critic, and amazingly articulate, warm, and friendly. Gabe mentioned Andy Warhol, and it turned out Pam had some dense but fascinating ideas about him.

On Saturday afternoon, I took the kids to their first live opera at the Met, where we saw Carmen with Elina Garanca in the title role. She was smoking hot! Everything was truly wonderful — singing, sets, costumes, orchestra. And the story is still a bloody shocker. I was a little worried beforehand that the kids might not like it, which, especially in view of the ticket prices, would have been a bummer, but was not — they enjoyed it.

Gabe and Jocelyn had an early flight to Colorado on Sunday, so I was on my own for the last day. I went back to the Met in the morning and spent some time with the Greek and Roman antiquities, looked in on an exhibit of the work of Jan Gossart (Dutch Renaissance), and looked in again at the beloved Vermeers. Then I went to Lincoln Center to see the City Ballet’s Nutcracker.

After many Nutcrackers, I thought I was pretty much nutcrackered out for life, but it turned out not. Somehow it hit the sweet spot of pure joy and wonder. The dancing was delightful, the stagecraft was impressive, and the orchestra sounded great. The child dancers had more-than-usual charisma. Jennifer Ringer as the Sugarplum Fairy seemed a little flat at first, but was gorgeous in the pas de deux. Ashley Bouder was an exquisite Dew Drop. A few weeks earlier I’d ordered a piano version of the Tchaikovsky score and played through parts of it for fun, so I was particularly attentive to the music. It is a masterpiece.

After the ballet, I took a cab to 46th and 12th and visited the aircraft carrier Intrepid, the submarine Growler, and the Concorde. Impressive machines! The Intrepid is a proud veteran of WWII that played a significant role in the Pacific theater and survived some kamikaze hits. The sun was setting at the end of my tour, and the view of Manhattan was beautiful.