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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 49
PNB's Nutcracker charms in traditional performance
Arts & Entertainment
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PNB's Nutcracker charms in traditional performance

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Nutcracker
McCaw Hall
Through December 27


Pacific Northwest Ballet's annual production of the Kent Stowell/Maurice Sendak staging of Nutcracker has been a beloved Emerald City holiday tradition since its first performance in 1983. This year's revival is no exception. Crammed with charming moments, fairytale settings, some terrific dancing, dozens and dozens of on-stage children, and PNB's full company, Nutcracker never fails to charm.

The stately peacock still struts in an unbelievable turn in the enchanted land of Act Two. The whirling dervishes still twirl and whirl into childhood memories. The Chinese Tiger still delights thousands of audience members each performance with a neo-vaudeville outing. So many of the supporting characters - in solo appearances or in duos, trios, or other groupings - steal center stage with every appearance that it's easy to forget that Clara and her Nutcracker Prince are the main focus. As usual, PNB casts major roles with multiple dancers. Last Friday found an assured Maria Chapman dancing the adult Clara and a swashbuckling Seth Orza bringing the Prince fully to life.

Both Chapman and Orza danced beautifully together. Stowell, the former co-artistic director of PNB, created several lovely pairings and some fine solos for their characters. The fact that their dances border on the generic is not their fault. Stowell creates his best work in this PNB adaptation for the specialty acts, and those dancers walk away with the show. The large corps de ballet outings - the 'Dance of the Snowflakes' that ends Act One and the world-famous 'Waltz of the Flowers' toward the end of Act Two - give the crowd a terrific taste of classical ballet.

As usual, the incredibly rich score by Tchaikovsky carries many of the show's most celebrated moments. The large PNB Orchestra, ably conducted by PNB's new musical director and principal conductor Emil de Cou, performs with its usual sparkle and polish. Tchaikovsky's score is a real workout, with soaring passages, intimate moments, and comic delights, and the PNB musicians are well up to the task.

The Sendak designs, approaching 30 years in age, are still fresh, vibrant, and oh so contemporary. Each viewing reveals new, subtle delights that have been there since day one. (Only last year, this reviewer finally noted a large peacock over the double doorway in Act One, foreshadowing the Act Two solo.)

A major part of Nutcracker is always seeing hundreds of children in the audience 'all dressed up' for the holidays. Some clutch bouquets of flowers for siblings or friends in the production. Others clutch a parent's hand, almost overwhelmed by the vast space in McCaw Hall. Most of the little girls are dressed to the nines in Christmas finery. A few little boys are dressed up, too. One charming little tyke wore a tiny bow tie and a red Christmas vest - obviously delighted and beaming with his holiday finery. The festive attire tends to spread to many adults, too. Many others dress in their usual REI uniforms - people-watching before the show and at intermission is an added bonus.

The groups of on-stage children, drawn from PNB's celebrated ballet school, are well trained and polished to near perfection. Almost 200 children are involved in rotating groups for the month-long performances. The large groups - as warrior mice, military officers, the infantry, cavalry, or artillery (in Act One), or servant children and the Chinese Tiger's four girl attendants (in Act Two) - add much delight to the performance. The eight children in the 'Toy Theater' sequence were exceptionally polished last Friday - bravo to all the teachers and ballet masters involved (and to the parents who drive the children to seemingly endless rehearsals and performances).

Evening and matinee performances of Nutcracker continue until December 27. Last Friday's performance was far from full, which indicates that good seating is available for all performances. Ushers report some near sell-outs, a few actual sell-outs, and many 'space available' performances during the early stagings. The helpful staff at PNB's box office has full details. Contact them at (206) 441-2424 or at www.pnb.org . Highest recommendation. Check it out. The Dina Martina Christmas Show
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