Reflections on Le Café from The Nutcracker

Le Café (Arabian Dance) - Tchaikovsky (from The Nutcracker, composed 1892) 

 There is a lot to work through, and a lot of people re-envisioning the ballet. There are many articles written about the potentially racist associations with these character dances and choreography, and I invite you to explore these ideas, while staying open to the music. I have a special place in my heart for Tchaikovsky. When I was a child, I listened to the vinyl record of the Nutcracker Suite countless times before I ever saw the dances. The instruments spoke to me as if they were each their own being, communicating directly in feeling. As an adult, I spent years performing the Nutcracker with Northwest Sinfonietta for Tacoma City Ballet. During those years, I experienced loss and grief, pregnancy and joy, along with deepening friendships with colleagues in the orchestra. Within each three hour performance, The Arabian Dance was always a moment of meditation for me, playing in the pit under the stage. The cello part repeats the same entrancing octave rhythm sixty times, and then moves on to another open string rhythm twenty-five times, and then back to the original octave…. It is looped music without a loop pedal, which I allowed to carry me into reflection, while keeping an awareness of the entirety of the music. I taught for many years, and when students would complain about having a “boring” part, I would try to open their ears and minds to the idea that they were part of everything going on. This, to me, is the essence of what it means to play in an orchestra (and certainly it informs my worldview). It is about becoming one, about releasing ego in service of creating unity. I was playing two notes on my cello, and also playing with every other part in the orchestra. You can imagine how much fun I had when I decided to actually learn every part in the score…

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