I’ve come to the Sydney Opera House to see a special children’s matinee of The Nutcracker ballet with my daughter and my two grandsons. The younger one, three-year-old Eli, sits crosslegged on the carpet in the front row. Beside him is his older brother; both of them wait expectantly.
Families mill around them, shepherding their youngsters to their seats. There is chatter, shuffling, and rustling. “Sshhhh! Sshhhh!” calls the narrator to quieten the crowd for the performance to start.
As Tchaikovsky’s music swells from the orchestra, the story begins, the Christmas tree lights up and the curtain parts before a dancer gracefully steps out. The stage then fills with movement, colour and light.
Eli is enchanted. He turns his head to watch the dancers as they glide, leap and spin. He listens to the words of the story, to the sound of the music. From my chair behind, I watch Eli and marvel that he can now be touched by the magic of theatre.
Eli is deaf. Sometime during his first year, he stopped being able to hear. Over the following
this six months it became apparent he was not responding to language, nor was his speech developing. The specialists’ advice was consistent: he was now profoundly deaf and the best option would be Cochlear implants.
It is 12 months since this major surgery was undertaken. Eli is learning how to hear — and we are learning how to help him. Speech therapy teaches him to listen, to hear the differences between sounds, to form words with his lips and tongue, and to speak. Regular technical finetuning ensures the devices work at optimum capability. His progress has been miraculous and extremely gratifying.
When the ballet finishes, the narrator invites the children to talk to the musicians and get up- close to the instruments. The flautist sits on the edge of the stage and Eli immediately climbs up to sit beside her. She shows him her flute, then brings it to her lips and plays a few notes. Eli watches intently, holding his lips just the same way and experimentally blowing softly.
The performance over, we walk outside into the summer sunshine. The excited chatter of the children and their parents surrounds us, against the background noises of the city at midday, the churn of the ferries, the rumble of a train and the roar of the Cahill Expressway.
Strolling along Circular Quay towards the ferry, I notice the Aboriginal buskers and the low rhythmical drone of their didgeridoo throbbing through the crowd.
Eli pauses, tilts his head inquiringly, and asks: “What dat noise, Nana?” It is such a wonderful question.
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