Eight years ago, my daughter Jasmine asked if she could audition for the Ahwatukee Foothills “Nutcracker” performance. She was new to the world of ballet and dance, but I relented, and she was thrilled to get parts as a Baby Mouse and a Mini Bon Bon. And the next thing I knew, her Saturday soccer games now had conflicts with “The Nutcracker” practice — called “rehearsals,” I was quickly corrected. I kept hearing about how much fun Jasmine was having at these rehearsals, how many new friends she was making, and how she couldn’t wait for “Opening Night.” I didn’t pay too much attention. I just paid for the costumes, bought tickets for a performance, and occasionally picked her up after a rehearsal and raced her to her soccer game.
Opening night finally arrived. I had bought myself a ticket for opening night only, figuring that one performance was enough. I reasoned that this was a children’s ballet, nothing more than a glorified dance recital, and I was worried I wouldn’t even make it through one show. But after the curtain opened, something amazing happened. I was mesmerized. The opening party scene was beyond belief. I soaked in the beautiful, well-designed sets and the amazing professional costumes. But even more impressive was the dancing and acting talents of the young performers from our community. I had seen them running around the dance studio, but I had no idea how talented and well-trained they were. What I was watching was the antithesis of a dance recital. I was watching a professional production starring our children. And I thought to myself, “Wow. Kimberly Lewis doesn’t mess around. If she produces a show, it’s going to be the best, and I want my daughter in it.”
I watched my daughter dance with joy as her troupe of mice battled the enemy toy soldiers. I watched the Snow Flakes dance amidst snow flurries drifting down from the rafters. I watched my daughter dance in her Ice Cream Sundae costume with the other Bon Bon dancers, both big and small, and I prayed that her headpiece stayed on (and it did!). And I could see in her eyes how happy she was to perform in front of so many people in a real auditorium. I watched Clara, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and all the Queens perform magic in Candyland. I turned my head to observe the audience, and saw all the proud parents and siblings, and saw the smiles on all the children as they applauded each scene. This “Nutcracker” magic I had heard so much about was real. When the show ended, after I gave Jasmine her bouquet of flowers and a big hug and kiss, I immediately bought tickets for the other two performances that weekend. I was hooked.
Since that evening performance, I’ve been to 24 “Nutcracker” shows and counting. Jasmine is now 13 years old, and she has auditioned for “The Nutcracker” every year. I’ve had the pleasure to watch her in many roles, including Lead Doll, Lead Flower, and one year when she was absolutely thrilled to get the role of Clara. This year she is the Arabian Queen, her first and hopefully not her last Queen role. She dreams of one day being the Butterfly and, of course, her ultimate dream is to be Sugar Plum Fairy. Even her brother has caught “The Nutcracker” magic. He’s loved being part of the production the past few years, playing March Boy, Fritz, and this year the Prince. (I do chuckle inside when I race him from football practice to “Nutcracker” rehearsals. That’s not a transition many football players go through. He won’t admit to it, but he has caught “The Nutcracker” magic just like his father).
I look forward to the Ahwatukee Foothills “Nutcracker” every year, and it really sets the tone for the holidays. I’ve enjoyed bringing friends and family to performances, and I love watching their reactions when the show starts. The show exceeds their expectations every time. The year Jasmine played Clara, she did several readings at local elementary schools. I still to this day have parents come up to me telling me that their children came home from school on those days, and insisted they go see “The Nutcracker.” And several of those children are now performing in “The Nutcracker” themselves.
Throughout these years, it’s been such a privilege to watch these talented young girls grow up into young women. I’ve seen Baby Mice and Little Angels grow up to star as Snow Princesses, Dew Drops and Queens. I’ve seen March girls and Mini Bonbons grow into best friends and Clara and Butterfly and Sugar Plum Fairy. I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the quality of the girls who have the dedication to sacrifice their fall Saturdays for the holiday performances. I’ve been even more impressed seeing first-hand how the older girls mentor the younger girls. These girls have been ideal role models for Jasmine and her friends, and gave them all something to strive for. I hope these older girls — now nearing or past high school graduation — realize how big an impact they have had on these younger performers. And now, nothing makes me prouder than watching Jasmine mentor young dancers herself, working with the Baby Mice, March girls and other dancers new to “The Nutcracker.”
I can say this with 100 percent certainty: “The Nutcracker” has had an extremely positive effect on my daughter’s life, and as she goes on to be successful in whatever endeavor she decides to pursue, I know she’ll look back on “The Nutcracker” as one of the attributes for her success.
It seems like just yesterday, but it was eight years ago that my daughter asked if she could audition for the Ahwatukee Foothills “Nutcracker” performance. Little did I know then how life-changing it would be for all of us. And how it would turn a football-crazy father into a “Nutcracker” dad for life.
• Robert Bassham has lived in Ahwatukee since 2003.