Two seats over from me, a very little boy was very obviously thrilled at watching what was surely his first “Nutcracker” at Pacific Northwest Ballet on Saturday night. Perhaps he had a sibling on stage; perhaps he knew the “Nutcracker” story — but he was excitedly chatting before the show and sat in rapt silence during it. After Act II, I looked over and he was curled up in his chair fast asleep, perhaps happily dreaming of whirling snowflakes and sugarplums.
PNB’s “Nutcracker,” celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is all about the kids. Gloriously designed by Maurice Sendak and choreographed by Kent Stowell, it’s a familiar sight to many of us. But if you look at the smiles (and the perfectly placed feet) of the nearly 90 young PNB students on stage, or gaze at the faces of the children in the audience, it all seems to become brand-new again — just a bit of holiday magic.
On opening night, the fashion parade in the lobby almost threatened to overwhelm the production, with hordes of elegantly dressed children and their accompanying adults posing for pictures alongside “Nutcracker” character statues and sparkling Christmas trees. (One tiny girl in a leopard-print party dress looked ready for a magazine cover.) And then the curtain went up and there we were, in a Victorian dream of a drawing room decorated in sugar-pinks and soft blues, with a charming young Clara (Isabella Chavez) happily receiving a nutcracker doll from her mysterious godfather Drosselmeier (Uko Gorter, who’s been performing this role for two decades, always with a perfect blend of doddery menace).
We grown-ups know the story from there: an epic battle of mice and toy soldiers; a whirlwind journey to a magical land; a sudden awakening for Clara in her own bed, just a little bit older and wiser. But look carefully at the exquisite sets and costumes (seemingly ageless, after 30 years) and you’ll notice details you never saw before.
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The PNB company dancers, generously augmented by PNB Professional Division students, acquitted themselves with grace and poise, but it’s the children on stage that draw your gaze. After 30 years, surely some of those original party guests and small servants were in the audience, perhaps with children of their own, perhaps remembering a brightly lit stage and a beautiful costume, perhaps still dreaming a “Nutcracker” dream.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org