Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Anna Mae’s Aesthetic

Seeing the Nutcracker performed by the San Francisco Ballet is a dreamy, magical, awesome experience. I remember going several times when I was child, and once I had a classmate who had a minor role which somehow made me feel the show belonged to me. I still feel that way. Maybe because I grew up in the city, I feel it's a privilege to share this San Francisco wonder with the girls in my family. When my daughter was 6, I got tickets to take her to the Nutcracker, and yesterday I took Anna Mae who is 10.

We drove 3 hours through a storm to get to the Opera Hall, but the long drive rushed by in the blur of Anna Mae's excited conversation. We talked about many things, beginning with her growing mastery of math facts which is highly motivated by the promise that she can get her ears pierced when she knows them all and can produce answers rapidly. She told me all about her geometry lessons, explaining acute, right, and obtuse angles. I learned about her method for drawing clothing designs by dividing a page into squares and drawing different costumes in each square, e.g. school outfit, play outfit, church outfit. She even has a box for accessories. She measured the distance to SF by the number of towns we had to pass through which prompted consideration about what constitutes a town vs. a city and if SF was bigger or smaller than Los Angeles, a town she's visited many times with Papa. After several hours of conversation, she decided to work on her Christmas cards which she did until we reached the Bay Bridge.

Once in the city, Anna Mae's mature aesthetic kicked into high gear. We missed a turn and ended up driving in the Mission District for about 10 minutes, where Anna Mae was impressed with the gorgeous murals on buildings and curious about the graffiti on so many buildings. She said she prefers clean cities to dirty ones and was tickled when she spotted the dome of City Hall behind the building tops. We were trying to get there, but numerous one way streets thwarted our progress. But it wasn't long before we were on Van Ness, and she immediately spotted the giant lighted Nutcrackers on the front of the Opera Hall. We parked in underground parking and emerged on Civic Center Plaza into breaking sunshine which lit up City Hall. Anna Mae reached for her camera. "Papa would love this," she said as she snapped away. I was impressed with her clear photographic purpose, climbing onto retaining walls and walking through wet grass to get the best shot.

That was just the beginning because we still had the ballet ahead of us. Our tickets were in the balcony, high above the stage. I worried that the distance was just too much and immediately began planning how I could save money for Dress Circle tickets next year, but Mae was totally happy. She was an astute critic as well. Having watched a movie version of the Nutcracker, she quickly began to compare the two, noticing many differences and whispering her observations. She was impressed with the sets, especially the way the gifts and the tree grew to make Clara small for the war between the mice and the toy soldiers, and we were both entranced by the snow in the dance of the snow prince and princess which was truly lovely for their slippers made lovely patterns on the white that covered the stage floor. What I loved best was Anna Mae's gasp of appreciation at absolutely the right places and the fact that she understood my tears of pleasure when Clara danced with her prince. Tchaikovsky's music made an early imprint on me and I could feel it doing the same in Anna Mae.

On the way home we discussed how we could highlight or summarize all the details of this wonderful trip for friends and family. I'm sure Anna Mae's animated version to her siblings was filled with the vibrant energy of our time together and covered many details that I've omitted. What remains for me is the glow of the performance and a clear intention to get every one of my granddaughters and their moms to the Nutcracker in San Francisco.

JL, get the Sprinter revved up. We're all going next year. I'm already saving my money.