Editor’s Note: Theme and Variations

Michael Morain

Traditions run deep — deeper than we often realize. In our profile of Basi Affia, he told us that he borrowed the name for his comic book company, Sensi’il Studios, from a word in an Ethiopian language that describes the traditional artform of telling stories on folded pieces of paper. That’s essentially what a comic book is. It’s also what you’re holding in your hands right now.

Flip to any of these pages and you’ll find a tradition that’s been twisted in a fresh new way. On the cover, Savannah Cox sparkles in a Ballet Des Moines production of “The Nutcracker” that tosses out the classic story’s cringey cultural appropriation — based on 19th century notions about Arabians, Chinese and Russians — and relocates those sections in the natural world. You’ll meet Chiyo Nishida, the company’s first nonbinary dancer.

In our Out and About section, you’ll find notes on the latest iteration of the 700-year-old Christkindlmarket, a new musical set to Bob Dylan tunes, and a Hawkeye basketball doubleheader at Wells Fargo Arena, where Caitlin Clark will put her own spin on a legacy established by earlier generations of Iowa girls and women.

Later you’ll read how artists are upending ideas about interior design at the Des Moines Art Center, how chefs are adapting old classics at local restaurants and how couples are making weddings more eco-friendly. And, of course, this year’s Sages Over 70 offer wise tips to learn from the past and grow with the times.

As we head into the holidays, it’s a good time to consider which traditions are worth keeping as they are and which ones could use a few creative tweaks. In my own family, some of the old Norwegians used to celebrate Christmas with a big batch of rabidou, a chewy candy made by stirring and stirring sugar, caro syrup, milk and black walnuts until at least three people were exhausted. Younger relatives took on the task for years until someone finally got tired of all the stirring, set down the bowl and asked, “Does anyone actually like this stuff?” Well, no, not really. So now, with relief, we enjoy Aunt Deb’s peanut brittle instead.

A few years after Pyotr Tchaikovsky polished off “The Nutcracker” in St. Petersburg, a different man in a different corner of the Russian empire composed a classic of his own.

“Traditiooooon … TRADITION!” the fictional milkman Tevye sings. “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.”

Fair point. But sometimes it’s worth climbing the ladder for a new view.

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