I can never listen to the Nutcracker march without hearing echoes of "plonk plonk plonk" half-way through.
Aged nine, I had the joy of being an extra in The Nutcracker. I was cast as a party girl in Act 1. I was a bit younger and less experienced than most of the other party girls and can remember Veronica Paeper (choreographer and then soon-to-be artistic director of the ballet company in Cape Town) encouraging me during rehearsals. I liked the way she pronounced my name and am yet to meet anyone else who pronounces it with such eloquence.
One rehearsal day, we were ushered downstairs to wardrobe for our costume fittings. The wardrobe team tried to find a dress small enough to fit me. The peach-coloured frock that I had my eye on was far too big and they didn't even bother to let me try that one. But I think they tried just about every other dress on the rail. There was a lot of head-shaking and tutting through pins. I went back to the rehearsal studio with a lot of uncertainty about what I might end up wearing, while all the others were full of excitement.
Luckily, when it came to dress rehearsal day, I was surprised to find that they'd created a brand new olive-gold and black party dress costume for little ol' me. Wardrobe problem solved. But what about the vintage props?
In this Nutcracker production, party children were each given a shoebox present to open. This was an 80s' take on the Victorian era, so the girls received dolls and the boys trumpets. The props had clearly seen a few productions and some of the dolls were rather worse for wear (understatement). There was always a bit of trepidation wondering which one you were going to get when you opened the box.
I remember one night opening a box in which, to my horror, lay a doll's head completely severed from the body. We had to lift our gifts aloft to coincide with the end of the music and I managed to do so in a way that made it look like the head and body were attached. So far so good.
Luckily, the next bit required us to rush over to our stage parents to show them the gifts before our dance. I remember Anton Labuschagne (my stage father that night) surreptitiously laughing and trying to reattach the head to the poor doll before our next boys and girls' dance to the infamous Nutcracker march.
The boys marched forward with their trumpets. Cradling our dolls, the girls ran towards the footlights and, as we stopped in line to rock our dolls, one poor doll's head continued forward – plonk, plonk, plonk – perfectly in time to the chimes of that bit of music. I can still see it silhouetted against the brilliant footlight to my left and remember the voice in my head saying "just keep smiling". Not bad on-stage composure for a nine-year-old.
Fast forward a couple of years and I had another wonderful opportunity to be in The Nutcracker. Unfortunately, my dreams of the peach gown were not to be. I hadn't grown much and still fitted into the olive-gold number.
The plus with being tiny was that, both years, I was cast as the littlest party girl who falls asleep before the end of the party and gets carried off-stage snuggled up against the fancy blue and gold velvet dress-coat of her stage father.
Happy Christmas memories!
Wishing you all a wonderful festive season, filled with peace (haha autocorrect wanted that to be peach) and joy. 🎄❄️🩰