The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Patty Shaw Re­view thislife@theaus­tralian.com.au

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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