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