December in the Twin Cities brings cold and snow and NUTCRACKERS. There are probably ten or more different companies doing their version of the NUTCRACKER every December. They range from touring Russian companies doing a strict classical version to a wild version by professional dancers and children from the Park Board, featuring among other things, Clockwork Orange roller-skating droogs that slingshot bean bags during the ‘war’.
My favorite NUTCRACKER is Loyce Holton’s, which is celebrating it’s 50th year. (Also it marked the 20th year since the death of that wonderful, talented lady. Luckily, Loyce’s talented daughter Lise has carried on the tradition.) And of those 50 seasons, I was involved, either working it all the way through the season or at least working the setup and or tear down, in 40 of them.
And it is the favorite of the Twin Cities also. It’s performances are cut back now; but at one time, they ran almost the entire month. One year we did 29 performances at Northrop. Northrop seated 4,822 and during those 29 performances there was a seat in each seat.
Each year I found it as fresh and exciting as ever. So many fond memories, the Houlton family, (now with the third generation dancing), the dance company, and of the wonderful children who performed as mice and toys – one of whom was the memorable Michaud the Mischievous.
There wasn’t a performance go by that this little lad didn’t do something to add to his legend: whether it was absconding with all the candy, dish and all, that we stagehands had set out for all the little ones, or starting a fire in a waste basket, or getting caught out on a window ledge trying to peek into a girls’ dressing room. He was a caution! And then there was the day…
It was Half Hour, the time when the cast gets into costume and the crew finishes the preset for the top of the show. The orchestra conductor was relaxing in a folding chair situated about five feet in front of the mouth of the prop cannon. A quiet time.
No one saw Michaud sneak on stage. I just happen to look over just as the imp shot off the cannon. The conductor jumped about four feet in the air. Through the puff of smoke, I could see the shocked expression on Michaud’s face, and then he turned and high-tailed it off the stage.
The poor maestro was standing, bent slightly at the waist, pressing his hands against his ears, trying to reassure us that he was all right. His hair was blown forward. The back of his head and tux was covered with gray pyro dust. In short, he resembled Wile E. Coyote at the end of the cartoon. Luckily, his ears stopped ringing sometimes during the first act. After that, Michaud was assigned a permanent guard for the duration of the run.
The next season, everyone breathed a little easier when we were told that Michaud had decided not to pursue a career in ballet. Sometimes I wonder whatever became of Michaud, but I really don’t want to know.
While I enjoy my retirement, there are times when I wish I was back working. Whenever I see the ads for Loyce Holton’s NUCRACKER is one of those times. So many fond memories.
And seeing as how the month of December is coming to an end, I would like to wish all my friends a Happy New Year.