A first-timer's impressions of Pacific Northwest Ballet's annual Maurice Sendak/Kent Stowell production, which continues through Dec. 27 at McCaw Hall in Seattle

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Dance Review |

Before Friday night, I had never seen “Nutcracker” live. (Pictures of it, maybe.) Never wanted to be a ballerina. (I wanted to be an astronaut.) I find nutcrackers themselves to be a little sinister. (My, what big teeth they have.)

But enter a husband, who long nurtured a dream of a “Nutcracker” family holiday tradition. Add a son who loves the holidays. What you get is all three of us — one reluctantly stuffed into a new sweater and sporting a fresh haircut — marching off to see Pacific Northwest Ballet’s storied Maurice Sendak/Kent Stowell production, now in its 28th year.

Earlier in the week, I had prepped my 6-year-old by showing him photos of past shows, emphasizing the live nutcracker, the giant tree, the snow. “Is this going to be long? Is there going to be real snow?” he asked, a budding skeptic.

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“No,” I said, “but it’s going to look very, very real. Everything is!”

Meanwhile, I mentally pleaded, “PNB, don’t fail me.”

And we arrived at McCaw Hall for “Nutcracker.”

And PNB did not fail.

The excitement before the curtain went up was real, from the dressed-up folks of all ages taking photos of each other near the lobby Christmas tree to the magician performing for a circle of jumping-up-and-down kids.

The wonders did not cease, beginning with the ballet’s elaborate Sendak sets, which fill the stage yet at the same time are full of whimsical details. (Hint: look for a Sendak beastie during the boat scene.)

Tchaikovsky’s music was bright and joyful under the baton of PNB music director Emil de Cou. You’ve heard many of the tunes before, in advertisements and films, but hearing them played as dancers’ accompaniment reminds you that this music is not a Christmas cliché — rather, it’s a living, breathing thing.

When it comes to breathing, how do the dancers make that hard work look so effortless? Clara (Isabella Alabi) and the children in the party scene were always on the move, but grinned like showbiz veterans. The sparkling grown-up Clara (Maria Chapman) and her dashing Prince (Seth Orza) looked radiant during all their pairings, through amazing lifts and leaps. The sinuous peacock (Lesley Rausch), unfolding from a gilded cage, is a wonder all her own.

At the end, after Clara woke up and we applauded, my son made an endless number of adjustments to his new sweater and said, “Was that her dream? I wish I could have a dream of that.”

Melissa Davis: 206-464-2506 or mdavis@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @duckmel.

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