‘Raising the Barre’

The Snow Queen Cometh: Lauren Kessler’s ‘Raising the Barre’

Eugene writer Lauren Kessler braves the hazards of ballet and 'The Nutcracker' in her new book


Once upon a December, back when my daughter was still a baby, I offered to take my daycare provider’s seven-year-old daughter to see the Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker. She had never been to the Keller (then Civic) Auditorium. I’m not sure she had ever been downtown. She wore a summer party dress over her acrylic knee socks and scuffed sneakers, and she was more nervous than excited, like this excursion might be some sort of punishment. Her agitation came to a head as the Waltz of the Snowflakes began. All that fake snow trickling down on all those twirling ballerinas had a predictable effect on her bladder, and the peak of the pirouetting found the two of us jostling past a long row of annoyed balletomanes.

Raising the Barre book coverThe point of this little anecdote is not that no good deed goes unpunished, but simply to illustrate one of the things Eugene author Lauren Kessler learned on her Nutcracker odyssey: everyone has a Nutcracker story. Somewhere along the way, the Nutcracker has become the most-performed ballet in the world. It helps fill the coffers of ballet companies every year. For instance, it accounts for 44% of the Eugene Ballet Company’s annual earned income, and that’s a pretty typical number. And for most people, The Nutcracker is the only ballet they will ever see.

For Kessler, it’s most likely the only ballet in which she will ever perform. Her new book, Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker (Da Capo Press), is a record of her audacious and frequently hilarious mission, which culminates in her dancing the part of Clara’s Maiden Aunt Rose. Sure, it’s not the Sugar Plum Fairy. The part doesn’t even call for dancing sur les pointes. But still—it’s The Nutcracker!