Visions of Plumshuga

Every night, my mother would tuck me into bed. 
“Good night, Sugar Plum,” she said.

I miss my mother.

Especially here at the holidays, I wax nostalgic.

Many years ago, my mother would read me ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and she took me to see the Nutcracker and visions of sugar plum fairies danced in my head. The following story is only loosely connected.

***

Sometime mid-October, I was scrolling Facebook when I stumbled onto a theatre review in the Houston Chronicle, written by my friend Doni Wilson: “Explosive ‘Plumshuga’ brings Houston dancer’s story to life.

I skimmed the review of a play about Lauren Anderson, the first Black principal ballerina of the Houston Ballet, written by the former Houston Poet Laureate, Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton. I knew of Mouton, but new-ish to Houston, I hadn’t heard of Anderson. In the back of my head, I felt this was a show to see. I didn’t rush to buy tickets.

On Tuesday, October 25, I grabbed a bite to eat down the street from my school. On my way back to my classroom, I took the stairs and strolled by the dance studios on the third floor. Lo and behold, Doni’s review was on the wall of the hallway bulletin board outside Studio A. I know the date because I snapped a photo and texted Doni. “Your name is on the wall at my school,” I said, feeling proud to know her.

On Thursday, November 3, who should come to my school for a lunchtime Q and A?

Lauren Anderson!

Come to find out, her father was the first assistant principal at my school beginning in 1972. And this lady mesmerized me in the woman power sort-of way. I wanted to know more of her story than the fifteen minutes or so that I heard that day, and I was especially interested in the connection between the Houston poet turned playwright and the Houston ballerina. How many signs does a person need that she must see a performance?

I found myself Googling Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton and stumbling upon “The Making of Plumshuga.” Mouton says, “I’m not originally from Houston, so coming into this city as a transplant…over a decade ago, I wanted to feel the pulse of this city. I didn’t want to live as someone who was just visiting, but I wanted to make a home here.” Her words resonated with me, a transplant, someone trying to make a home in Houston. I searched for tickets for the play that would close in a matter of days. Then I asked my husband on a date.

He said, “Yes.”

The play happened to coincide with our 11th anniversary of our 2nd marriage (11/11/11 to 11/11/22). There’s something about those ones and twos. I just happened to find two first-row tickets.

Doni said the story would stay with me “for its honesty and the original and superlative collaboration of words, music, and dance.”

At the end of the performance, Kody said, “That was the best show I’ve ever seen. I mean, much respect for those dancers.”

I agreed. The dancers. The writing. Lauren Anderson. Her story. The way she overcame racial barriers and bad relationships and addiction. I left the theatre inspired.

This play is an important reminder that if you are an excellent artist, even if you don’t feel like you belong, you do. And that psychological dimension of artistic insecurity, regardless of the source, is part of the difficulty of creativity.

Doni Wilson

34 thoughts on “Visions of Plumshuga

  1. I waited until I got home to watch the video. When Lauren said, “You help someone by telling them your story,” I was like “Yes!” Plumshuga seems like a Girl Power story of the highest cast. Such tales are best caught, rather than taught. You do a great job with this, by the way. Thanks, Crystal. I hope you and Kody have a great Thanksgiving.

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  2. Oh WOW–you made me cry, Crystal! Thank you so much for including me in your essay. You mean a lot to me and I am grateful you are in my life! Happy Thanksgiving! Doni

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  3. After 20 years of marriage, I discovered that my husband loved modern ballet. We have had wonderful trips to Houston to see the ballet and he has tears in his eyes. Lauren is an inspiration to all of us. When I was working as a cleaner to fund college back in the day, one of my clients was an artist. His wife worked for the ballet company in England and they housed students. Most of his portraits were of these very similar looking white girls. He asked me if he could draw me because my face was so different ethnically – I looked more Mexican then with black hair. I still have the drawings that he gifted me as a wedding present 40 years ago.

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    1. I love so much about this response. Thanks for sharing, Kerry. Last week was the Fall Dance Concert at my school. The next one is in March. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, a mix of traditional and modern, and so worth seeing.

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  4. An experience “only loosely connected,” Crystal? Oh, “Plumshuga” is much more than that, it continues the story you and your mother started. It affirms it on a miraculous scale.

    Naturally, playwright and artist inspire from the stage. Their passion and vision fill the audience with an irresistible energy.

    True, and this applies to the tens of thousands who’ve witnessed the performance, and to the hundreds of thousands who read Doni Wilson’s words. The miraculous speaks on a more personal level than that, though, Crystal. It exalts in the impossible coincidences which brought “Plumshuga” into your life.

    Here is your mother’s voice, her influence stronger than ever. In arrangements achieved so perfectly, only Divine Intervention may explain them. Actions inspired recently by a mother’s ongoing love.

    You open with your mother taking you, all those years ago, to see Pyotr llyich’s eternal work. That was Act One. “Plumshuga” is Act Two.

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  5. What a great story! It was meant to be and such a beautiful experience for you and Kody! I miss my mom this time of year too and remember all the love she had for the holidays! Wrapping you in love and hugs, C

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  6. Such a beautiful story! I remember I used to dance ballet for the Moscow Ballet. My dad, who passed away last month, used to go to every show and recital. I offer you much warmth during this holiday season, and thank you for sharing your wonderful experience!

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