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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 20 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 51
PNB's Nutcracker charms in this traditional performance
Arts & Entertainment
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PNB's Nutcracker charms in this traditional performance

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

NUTCRACKER
MCCAW HALL
Through December 29


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.

Kent Stowell, the former PNB co-artistic director (and co-founder of Pacific Northwest Ballet) 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, PNB casts all major roles and specialty numbers with numerous company members. Multiple casts often result in real NUTCRACKER NUTS - and YOU know who you are - attending multiple performances to catch specific dancers in lead roles.

As usual, the incredibly rich score by Tchaikovsky carries many of the show's most celebrated moments. The large PNB Orchestra, ably conducted with rich and lush style, 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 scenic designs, beloved by zillions of Emerald City children for three decades, 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 noticed 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 29. Good seats are still available. 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! (As usual, tell PNB that 'SGN sent ya!' The box office staff and the whole PNB crew like to know things like that. Happy Season from MWH and SGN!)



NOTE: This writer's 'ballet family' includes dozens of other reviewers and three special young women - granddaughter, Miss Victoria, Miss A. and Miss V. All three give this year's Nutcracker '24 stars out of 10.' Yes, that's correct!

[Full disclosure: SGN pulled some strings and finagled this writer's entry into an early tech rehearsal and a later dress rehearsal. It was this scribe's forty-second visit to PNB's Nutcracker - and one of three major productions he saw this year: New York City Ballet's elegant and very different Balanchine staging, San Francisco Ballet's stylish staging and PNB's beloved classic. But that, dear reader, is another story for another year.]

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