Get swept up in a whirl of wonder at PNB's "Nutcracker"
After 25 years, Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Nutcracker" still has magic to spare.
Seattle Times arts writer
"Nutcracker," Pacific Northwest Ballet, through Dec. 30, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall; $22-$120 (206-441-2424 or www.pnb.org).
Dance Review |
Twenty-five years ago, a relatively young Seattle ballet company took a risk: a new, lavish and very expensive production of the holiday classic "Nutcracker." Maurice Sendak, beloved author/illustrator of "Where the Wild Things Are," designed the whimsical and elaborate sets and costumes; then-artistic director Kent Stowell choreographed the production. Audiences were dazzled — and have been, for a quarter century. It has become a signature work for Pacific Northwest Ballet: an artistic triumph, a reliable moneymaker, and a happily anticipated yearly ritual.
The "Nutcracker" currently onstage at McCaw Hall doesn't show its age, as many productions born in the '80s might; what was startlingly fresh in 1983 still sparkles. (One exception: The blackface Dervishes in Act 2; an idea that was stale then and now.) And even those who've been visiting it for its entire lifetime can find some new detail in Sendak's work every time. Look at how, in the Act 2 set, the ceiling is held up by a pair of giant toy soldiers who stand on the backs of a pair of mice, or how the girls in the Chinese variation wear multicolored pointe shoes, or how, in Randall G. Chiarelli's lighting design, grown-up Clara and her prince dance their final pas de deux in a sapphire-and-emerald twilight. The sets and costumes shimmer, as vivid and multihued as the ballet's brilliant Tchaikovsky score.
Stowell's choreography does tend to fade with each viewing; most of it is competent but uninspired, with a tendency to repeat the same combinations over and over. (Elisabeth Malanga, the marvelous young Clara of opening night, showed a talent far greater than the simple, repeated steps she was given.) And there were a few problems on opening night: The Snowflakes seemed rushed to the point of sloppiness; the party scene at times felt long.
But none of this registers in the face of this ballet's powerful magic, which wafts up from the orchestra pit (in fine form, under 25-year "Nutcracker" veteran Stewart Kershaw's baton), entwines with the dancers and enraptures the audience young and old. It's a joy to watch dancers embrace roles they've made their own over the years (Ariana Lallone's beautifully mournful, angular Peacock), bring an unexpected spark to something new (Lucien Postlewaite's charming, funny lightness in the Commedia trio), or sweep us up in emotion (Carrie Imler, as grown-up Clara, capturing the open-mouthed wonder of the character's transformation).
And that moment of pure magic in the Snowflake waltz, when the choreography slows down to a simple bouréeing circle as the voices of singers Catherine Haight and Emily Lunde soar and the snow falls thicker in the ice-blue light, is exquisite; sure to figure in many a "Nutcracker" attendee's happy dreams.
The final bow on opening night included a number of unexpected faces: former company members who were instrumental in "Nutcracker" productions over the years. Happy anniversary, "Nutcracker"; long may you live.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com
Pacific Northwest Ballet's 2008 run of "Nutcracker" ends on Dec. 30. An incorrect closing date was reported in a Dec. 2 review and a Dec. 14 calendar item. The information was corrected on Jan. 30.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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