Every year, on the Sunday closest to Christmas, Dr. Myra Balok carries on a family tradition that now spans more than forty years and three generations.
It all started in 1970 when Dr. Balok first experienced the magic of The Nutcracker with her baby daughter Shelley at one of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s early performances at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Over the next 40 years, Dr. Balok went on to share that first Nutcracker experience with each of her eight children and 14 grandchildren.
From the Pittsburgh Playhouse, to Heinz Hall, and now the Benedum Center, Dr. Balok’s Nutcracker tradition runs nearly as long as Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has performed the production. For Dr. Balok, however, the magic of The Nutcracker only gets richer.
“Ballet like literature is interpreted. That’s been interesting over the years…how the dancers dance different pieces and how the director envisions different pieces,” said Dr. Balok, a professor of English and Literature at Slippery Rock University. “Every performance, no matter what, is different. I never tire; they are just so full of memories for me.”
From chaperoning a double date for her teenage children to introducing her three and four year old granddaughters to the family tradition, Balok has watched her family’s reactions and appreciation for the show evolve with time.
“I remember taking (my two granddaughters). They were so young, but it’s so visual and beautiful. I think they all know it’s special to me, so I think they’re all caught up in the whole specialness of it.”
This year, Dr. Balok will be attending the show with 12 of her granddaughters and daughters, including Shelley.
“It has become a tradition, and I believe in that. I think that families should have traditions, that there’s something that stays the same for every year…The Nutcracker is something really special. It’s time set aside that we’re together,” Dr. Balok said. “Maybe there will be four generations one day.”
Favorite Moment in the Ballet: As a child, Dr. Balok remembers dancing to the music of the Sugarplum Fairy, so it’s a highlight of the show for her. “Sometimes I watch the pieces, and I hold my breath, it’s so beautiful to me.” The snow scene is another favorite: “I love Pittsburgh, and the scene where it’s moonlit over the river, when I first saw that it was so wonderful… I can’t pick a favorite, I just love them all.”
A Detail You Look for in PBT’s The Nutcracker Each Year: “I love watching how they change the mice (in the battle scene). I always watch for that…” Dr. Balok also looks for the Arabian pas de deux, the partnering in the Sugarplum pas de deux and the Land of Enchantment Carousel.
The Best Part for Grandchildren: “I think they enjoy seeing the other children…that’s been wonderful to see the kids and my kids watching them. “They love the carousel, they talk about that afterwards…I think they like the magical parts…they love the variety.” As for the dancing, “They try to do it at home; they’re walking around on their toes. They’re impressed (with the ballerinas on pointe).”