A backstage glimpse of Pacific Northwest Ballet's 'Nutcracker'
Pacific Northwest Ballet's annual "Nutcracker" is a whirl of activity — on stage and off. Seattle Times arts writer Moira Macdonald reports on the view from the wings.
"Nutcracker"Today-Dec. 30, Pacific Northwest Ballet, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $26-$123 (206-441-2424 or www.pnb.org).
It's one of the final shows of last year's 25th anniversary run of "Nutcracker," and the history of this beloved production, designed by Maurice Sendak, is everywhere.
The six horses in the battle scene, I learn, are named for the girls who played them in the original production: Shelly, Erin, Marianne, Sophie, Heather, Celeste. (Have they returned to see the show again, with their children in tow?)
Generations of children who've performed in the Toy Theatre have left lipstick marks on the backside of the toy house, on pieces of tape. Eighty-six children will perform this afternoon; a different cast soon arrives to perform tonight.
The boat used in Act II to transport Clara and the prince has a battered "Das Boot" label on the back; it's so narrow that Clara's tutu sticks out the backside, out of sight of the audience.
As Tchaikovsky's overture sparkles up from the pit, the curtain's still down and an entirely different show is taking place on stage: The little girls in the party scene, with their dolls, are choreographing their dances, with great enthusiasm. Perfectly trained, they know exactly the beat of the music on which to freeze, and they do, all play forgotten as the curtain goes up on their carefully rehearsed poses.
Backstage, a few soldier kids — perhaps recent graduates of the party scene — join in the grandparents' dance, unseen, as they wait for the battle to begin.
The Mouse King descends (on the cue "Rat, go" from the stage manager) and the battle rages on stage as pastel-blue-clad ballerinas begin to gather backstage, stretching and quietly chatting. Snow begins to fall, the deliciously flicked strains of the "Waltz of the Snowflakes" begin, and another assemblage is formed, out of sight. Garbage cans and brooms stand ready to sweep every hint of the snow away before Act II. A stagehand thumbs the straws of his broom to the music's beat.
Act II, a series of group dances, is a constant parade of entrances and exits. A young dancer apologizes for getting in the way of a racing dervish. The peacock, upon leaving the stage, immediately removes her tightfitting headpiece. Flora, leader of the "Waltz of the Flowers," leaps offstage after her solo, beaming. "Not tired!" she announces brightly, to anyone there to hear it. Partners, finishing a pas de deux, hug briefly in the wings.
And throughout the second act, little Clara remains backstage. Though her work is done (except for a brief final scene and a bow), she watches everything carefully, slipping in front of me to watch the Flowers in their whirl of pastel grace. Was each of them a Clara once, and will this Clara graduate some day to tutus, pointe shoes and bouquets?
The bows are taken, and the day's dust is swept; this "Nutcracker" performance is history, as the next cast waits to begin.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com
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