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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 3, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 49
PNB celebrates 27th year of Sendak/Stowell's glorious Nutcracker
Arts & Entertainment
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PNB celebrates 27th year of Sendak/Stowell's glorious Nutcracker

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

The Nutcracker
McCaw Hall
Through December 27


It's been 27 years since Nutcracker, the world-famous visual and dance treat, premiered at Pacific Northwest Ballet. The combined skills of Kent Stowell (then co-artistic director of PNB) and Maurice Sendak, internationally celebrated children's book author and illustrator, meshed in a manner that few could anticipate. An instant classic was created. Of course, the enduring music by Tchaikovsky is responsible, in part, for the unique popularity of the now-traditional holiday event. And the choreography, of course, pays tribute to the Russian original from the 1892 staging at the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg. The 2010 revival - with some children of the original PNB children in the vast cast - opened last weekend and continues through December 27 at McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center.

To say that Friday's performance was an evening of enchantment would be the understatement of the year. A capacity crowd greeted the annual staging. Little girls and boys in their "I Study Ballet" best joined with proud parents bearing armloads of flowers for the post-opening celebration. Hundreds of young children - many of them very young - fill the stage of the opera house. The production uses nearly 300 dancers of all ages in rotating casts during the month-long run. The entire adult company of PNB rotates in and out of major and supporting roles. Many of the company dancers have their own fan base, and many Nutcracker nuts return to the show time and time again each season.

On opening night, Carla Korbes danced the adult Clara, Batkhurel Bold was her dashing Prince, and Olivier Weavers was the doddering, perhaps dangerous Herr Drosselmeier. While the principal roles rotate among a series of company dancers, audiences are guaranteed an outstanding performance from each and every cast member. The three leads on opening night reflect the growing cultural diversity of PNB - Korbes is a native of Brazil, Weavers is from Belgium, and Bold is from Mongolia. Each year, the 190 roles on stage at every performance reflect more and more cultural diversity - and so it is with the audience.

Every Nutcracker fan has his or her own favorite scene and favorite character. This reviewer continually delights in the elegance of the Peacock in Act Two. For the first time, after 20-plus visits, this scribe noticed a painted peacock above the double doorway in Clara's home in Act One. It's always been there - Sendak's colorful set is just so full of imaginative touches that many remain overlooked year after year. On opening night, Ariana Lallone again danced the strutting Peacock. Lallone has announced her retirement at the end of this season, and it was fitting that she danced the opening this year - her last with the company. She will be missed, but like the full Nutcracker, the Peacock will continue for decades to come.

Other highlights for this writer include the Dance of the Snowflakes that ends Act One. Much of the first act is full of mime and children in elaborate formations - as mice, tin soldiers, a charming mounted cavalry. When Clara and her Prince turn into adult dancers near the end of Act One, the real dancing starts. The Snowflakes, one of the most famous scenes in the work, gives the Nutcracker a real shot of full ballet adrenalin to bring down the curtain on Act One (and allow the busy, busy stagehands to sweep up the mountains of snow that fall in the Act One finale). The Chinese Tiger, a show-stopping solo dance that always delights the crowd, the whirling dervishes, the Commedia troupe, the Toy Theatre cast and the enchanting Waltz of The Flowers cast are other highlights. The PNB Orchestra, under the smooth direction of Allan Dameron, deserves its own round of applause.

There is no doubt that PNB's Nutcracker is a holiday classic for Seattle and throughout the magic kingdom of The Emerald City. Highest recommendation. Ticket and performance information is available at (206) 441-2424. Numerous matinees dot the schedule - a perfect time for family audiences.

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