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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 7, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 49
Pacific Northwest Ballet: 'George Balanchine's The Nutcracker'
Arts & Entertainment
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Pacific Northwest Ballet: 'George Balanchine's The Nutcracker'

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET
'GEORGE BALANCHINE'S
THE NUTCRACKER'
MCCAW HALL
December 2
(Through 12/28)


There is no better way to kick off the best season of the year than to take yourself and your loved ones to see the Pacific Northwest Ballet's 'The Nutcracker.' A visit to McCaw Hall for this feast of music, dancing, and witty charm will set you up for the demands of the holidays and launch you into the new year with optimism for the future. Not only will you see one of the best ballet companies in the country dancing to one of the finest ballet orchestras in the world, but you will see 70 little kids performing with the grownups and holding their own, to a story at once edgy, weird, charming, and delightful. But you probably know all that, so here are five loftier reasons why you should give yourself the gift of PNB's 'The Nutcracker' this year:

1) It's Made For Us: This is the fourth season of 'The Nutcracker' that replaced the old Stowell/Sendak version, and I think the verdict is in: this production is truly great. PNB gives us Tchaikovsky's musical classic using George Balanchine's fascinating choreography and Ian Falconer's witty designs. I've seen a lot of Nutcrackers in my day - American Ballet Theatre, The Royal Ballet, The Bolshoi, Mark Morris' 'A Hard Nut,' as well as our local Cornish charmer - and all are delightful in their particular ways. But the current PNB version tops them all because the company itself - the dancers, the orchestra, the costume shop, the administrators and technical crews - are capable of pulling off something both complicated and demanding without imposing alien sophistication on our Pacific Northwestern sense of simplicity. Yes, the production originates with the New York City Ballet, but the special stamp that the PNB production brings to it is ours, all ours. The vivid colors, the dancers we know so well who deserve the best choreography in the world, the kids making their debuts under the tutelage of world-class trainers - all this is the accomplishment of decades of devotion and development that make Seattle a bright star on the world map of dance companies.

2) It Shows Us Our Best Selves: PNB's 'Nutcracker' accomplishes what all great art does - it shows us the best of human endeavor so that we can be inspired to be our highest, best selves. Whatever art thrills you - visual arts, music, poetry, sculpture, good stories - it's all here, and at an artistic level that shows the full range of development. We see little tiny kids marching in place in time to the orchestra, tippy-toeing in angelic circles, staying in character, participating in an artistic construction much larger than they are. We see older kids executing very complex patterns and rhythms, and at the same time we see the corps de ballet and principal dancers executing steps that take years to perfect, dancing to an orchestra of dozens of players who practiced and practiced and practiced in order to create this gorgeous music. Between those poles of endeavor lie all stages of listening, taking direction, rehearsing, practicing, failing, trying again. This arc of human development may not be what's in the front of your mind as you experience 'The Nutcracker,' but it's deeply ingrained in the process of bringing a great work of art to the stage. Why do we love it? Because it's an analogy of ourselves - everything that goes into creating it is what we put into our own growth and development. If we practice hard we can participate in making something great together.

3) It's the Opposite of Virtual Reality: Worried about screen time exposure for yourself and your kids? Here's the antidote - from the time it takes to put your kids in their sparkly best and yourself into your nicer set of casuals, to stepping into the fabulous lobby of McCaw Hall, you're in Real Reality. Come early, because there's a 'petting zoo' of musical instruments you and your kids can pick up and try; there are life-sized sets and sculptures where you can stand and strike a pose for the camera; there are costume displays that show you how the magic is made, and costumed dancers walking around answering your questions - not to mention a Massive Christmas Tree with about a million lights. And when you take your seats before the curtain goes up you join the 'tromp l'oeil' audience members (including Olivia the Pig) who sit in a scrim of side boxes creating actual, rather than pixilated, illusions. 'The Nutcracker' is tangible fantasy - real world magic. Even the marvelous video that plays during the overture ends when a video girl and boy dissolve into real live children. It's good to be reminded that fantasy originates in reality (the actual brain - yours, Tchaikovsky's, Falconers', Balanchines', the dancers', the audiences'...) not virtual reality.

4) It Feeds The Soul Even If You Don't Think You Have A Soul: I'll leave the mysteries of the Sublime to theologians and philosophers, but one thing I'm sure of is that watching great dancing gives you an inkling of the Sublime/sublime (capitals are up to you). For instance, Balanchine was particularly brilliant at moving large groups of dancers around the stage without repeating patterns. Just wait until you see the Waltz of the Flowers in this production - it goes beyond the beauty of the fourteen women in their flower skirts, and the Dewdrop Fairy's spectacular solos (the brilliant Noelini Pantastico in the cast I saw) and demonstrates the mathematics of the universe forming shapes, melting away, and forming new shapes with the military flow of nature. Your mind can't help but enter a state of wonderment, a form of mindfulness that leaves you refreshed and energized. For those of us who think we have souls, it lifts the veil momentarily and shows us the Sublime. For those of you who are indifferent on the subject - you'll love it. It doesn't matter why.

5) It Will Give You Hope For The Future: We live in dark times, that's for sure. Valdemort has somehow found his way into the White House and the LGBTQ community along with everyone else is threatened. So is going to 'The Nutcracker' a way of burying our heads in the sand and taking a break from the drumbeat of corruption around us, or is it something to offer us strength and courage in bad times? I vote for the latter, because watching hundreds of people pull together for the pure joy of making something beautiful is like a shot of adrenaline for the human spirit. After all, if arts institutions like PNB - supported by so many ordinary folk like you and me - can join with the best of the past to make something so heartening for the present, then our country may still have the civil intelligence to turn back the dangerous Grinches we're coping with. The main thing is to keep hope alive for yourselves and the people and institutions you care for. Valdemort wants to put the kibosh on the arts - as if they only matter to some snooty elite who wants to take your guns away. But then, you'd have to have a Soul to know differently, or to have some sense of the Sublime/sublime. Pacific Northwest Ballet is a source of joy that will remind you that our world of talent and beauty is worth fighting for. 'The Nutcracker' tells the story of how a little girl was able to conquer a twelve-headed Rat King by throwing her slipper at him. Even the smallest gesture can have a great impact - the perfect story for our times.

Fortunately for all you busy people, PNB's 'George Balanchine's The Nutcracker' is running through December 28th, so there's plenty of time to make arrangements to see it at McCaw Hall this season. Give it to yourselves for the Holidays - you'll form happy memories for life.

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Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers and PNB School students in the finale of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker®, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. PNB's production features sets and costumes designed by Ian Falconer and runs November 23 - December 28, 2018. Photo © Angela Sterling.
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