A mania for tights (Or, How to make The Nutcracker live up to its name.)

LET'S FACE IT: These are tough times for high culture. Even as our renowned Pacific Northwest Ballet company has won raves around the world, its financial performance has been a pratfall. The company ended its latest fiscal year almost $1 million in the hole.

At the same time, professional wrestling has never been more flush. Fans are flocking to the matches. The athletes are gaining new legitimacy in fields such as politics. And in October, the World Wrestling Federation even went public with its own IPO: The Federation's now got a market cap of $1.5 billion. That's a lotta tutus.

This weekend, the PNB uncorks its main cash gusher of the year: The Nutcracker. With its charming Christmas theme, Tchaikovsky music, and dozens of little ballerinas running around, The Nutcracker is where every ballet company looks to gets its bread buttered. So this year, perhaps it's time for the PNB to consider ways in which it might tweak its marketing and presentation—just a little—in order to enjoy some of the success of the WWF. Likewise the WWF could look to the world of ballet for some hints on getting a little more artistic respectability.

Frankly, I think there's tremendous common ground. Both events are spectacles in which highly trained, professional athlete/actors perform well-choreographed, dramatic routines based on some plot most often expressing a sentiment such as hate, love, revenge, or the strong desire to throw another person across a room. Both types of performance include running, jumping, quick turning, the very real potential for serious injury, and lots of bowing and cheering at the end, with few real surprises.

The patrons of the local ballet and the people who pay to watch WWF wrestling should be the same people! Following are my suggestions to make this perfectly logical and mutually beneficial vision a reality.

To Get Wrestling Fans to cross over to ballet, promoters should:

Start calling ballerinas "The Women of Ballet."

Include more grunting and yelling.

Encourage food and beverage consumption during performances.

Create ongoing feuds between dancers.

Have an excitable announcer explain what's happening on stage.

Schedule performances alongside monster truck rallies.

Stage huge televised events such as the Ballet Smackdown.

Get dancers to change their names to things like "The Pinkinator" and "Bulge Bronson."

Include more body slams.

To Get Ballet Fans to watch more wrestling, promoters should:

Include more technical terms like pirouette and leap.

Frequently change storylines and background scenery.

Give each bout a more literary title, such as Swan Blood Lake or Petruska's Bloody Nose.

Print up expensive programs that explain the characters' motivations.

Let the orchestra sit in the good seats.

Get performers to wear tighter outfits and matching shoes with no arch support.

Use more group synchronized choreography.

INDEED, IT MAY WELL BE that a true marriage of wrestling and ballet would more efficiently serve the entertainment-seeking public. I can see it all so clearly. Shows could take place place in huge coliseums with giant ringed stages. The orchestra swells into a frenzied crescendo of violin and flute trills, timpani rolls, and cymbal crashes. A voice offstage yells: "Are you ready to rumble?" And the crowd goes wild.

The curtain rises and a spotlight shows Hulk Hogan, with a wide-eyed, angry grimace and his body contorted into an awkward imitation of a lounge chair. The spotlight expands to reveal six men and women almost center stage, dressed in brown and tan leotards with the names of various nuts inscribed in silver glitter across their chests. The Pecan and the Walnut are wearing red, knee-high vinyl boots, and Hazel Nut is wearing a green cape.

It's the 100th performance of The Nutcracker II: Revenge of the Nuts.

The crowd settles in as a large and unusually muscular woman clad in a black-and-white striped bikini-topped leotard leaps into the ring. She dances around with the bowl of nuts for a few minutes to an excerpt from Stravinski's "Rite of Spring" and then strikes a pose near the rear of the stage. The orchestra shifts into a somewhat funkier, more technically demanding version of "Rocky's Theme," and the nuts begin to fight. There are ample headlocks, lifts, spins, and tossing of bodies into the orchestra pit. The second-chair cellist is carried out on a stretcher. The crowd goes wild again. And the Chair gets into the action.

The orchestra shifts once more to a medley by 2 Unlimited and then cuts to complete silence, save for one single viola playing a single note. The crowd falls quiet. Only the Walnut remains. The ref returns and raises the winner's arm in a pose of victory. They begin to dance. Suddenly, the Nutcracker—an angry, big-toothed, bug-eyed dancer—leaps onto the stage and lands with a thump and a gut-wrenching howl. Some of the nuts who were defeated climb back into the giant ring, ready to fight alongside the Walnut.

No one knows how it will end or how many of the Butterflies will survive this time. But thousands have already paid for tomorrow night's show. This is only the beginning.

 
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