If I had a dream-date bucket list, a December night at the Nutcracker Ballet would top it. At any time of year, I love listening to Tchaikovsky while taking a bubble bath, but when the holiday season comes around, I have non-stop visions of sugarplums dancing through my head. Tutu-clad sugarplum fairies, that is.
Yet, despite years of longing, I’d never once been to see the Nutcracker, and the last place I expected to have this happen was in Peru, a country with 25-degree Christmases. But, on Sunday night, I found myself in Lima’s magnificent Teatro Municipal, sitting next to Scott, a dancer from the Peruvian National School of Ballet. (If you’re going to fulfill a life-long dream, who better to do so with than a professional insider?!)
The ballet was beautiful, nothing short of my expectations. I had previously met a couple of the lead dancers — classmates of Scott — which made it extra special. The music, in turn, captivated my imagination. It brought me back to Christmas Eves with my cousins, gathered around my Grandma’s television and watching the “Waltz of the Flowers “on a Disney Christmas VHS. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a live symphony, but apparently it was out of the budget.
“The city pays for the ballet.” Scott explained. “Most dancers earn a monthly salary of 1400 soles ($542 USD), while the top dancers earn 1800 ($698 USD).”
This is above the average Peruvian monthly salary, which was 1274 soles ($494 USD) in 2011. (According to this news site, the difference between male and female average incomes was 500 soles!) However, this still isn’t high, and reflects the limited government support of the fine arts. Despite this, patronage of the arts has been improving dramatically. In 2008, a decade after being almost completely destroyed by a fire, the Teatro Municipal was finally reconstructed. Furthermore, this year marked the opening of a modern, $110 million National Theatrein Lima, a venue designed to hold almost 1500 people. This theatre offers a wonderful opportunity for the expansion of Peruvian arts, but my question is: will citizens show their support?
What struck me the most about my night at the Municipal Theatre, was that less than a quarter of the red, plush seats were occupied. The performance began on the 29th, and continues until December 15th, but if the theatre is already this empty on the fourth night, how can the show run for so long?
My initial thought was that Peruvians can’t afford the entrance price. But ticket prices for the Nutcracker go as low as 20 soles ($7.75 USD), and I’ve seen ticket prices at the National Theatre for even less. I paid 30 soles for my seat on the top level, and could see perfectly fine. So, while 20 soles may be a lot for a lower-class Peruvian, there is still a huge chunk of the population that should be able to afford it.
“Peruvians don’t appreciate culture. Most would rather spend the 30 soles to go see a 3D movie,” Scott remarked. “Once, my friends had a performance that only three people showed up for, so they had to go out into the street and offer free tickets just to build up an audience.”
For me, this is a real pity, but I also recognize that the decline of fine arts is a reality for many places around the world. In a day and age when video games and PVR programming are constantly within hands’ reach, the tradition of theatre and visual arts struggles to stay afloat. With beautiful, new venues such as the Teatros Municipal and Nacional, I can only hope that Limeños can soon find it in them to put down that remote and head out for a night at the theatre.
For an idea of what I experienced Sunday night, check out this video of Lima’s Municipal Theatre Company performing “Cascanueces.”