A review of Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Nutcracker," running through Dec. 29 at Seattle's McCaw Hall.

There’s something comforting about an old friend who shows up every year, just the same as always, but with a new little gift in store. That friend is Pacific Northwest Ballet’s annual “Nutcracker,” gloriously designed in 1983 by Maurice Sendak and choreographed by Kent Stowell — and every year, no matter how many times you’ve already seen it (I’ve lost count, but am definitely in double digits), you’ll find something new.

How did it escape my notice, all these years, that grown-up Clara’s costume in Act II is the same as that of the Ballerina Doll in the party scene, at which little Clara gazes so longingly? It’s beautifully logical — we are, after all, in little Clara’s dream — but easy to miss. Why did I never before see that the chandelier in the Stahlbaum drawing room has a mouse dangling from it, holding a Cupid’s arrow? And why does the snow scene, with its sparkling flakes and quietly glowing field of white, seem more beautiful every year?

You don’t go to “Nutcracker” to be dazzled with novelty, but to be charmed by the familiar — by the delicious Tchaikovsky score (played by an orchestra that, as you’ll see from an intermission peek into the pit, gets into the holiday spirit by festooning itself with colored lights), by the whimsical detail and cotton-candy colors of the costumes and sets, and by the way PNB’s dancers, young and old, make it all look easy. On opening night, Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta, smiling as if in a happy dream, made a picture-perfect Clara and her Nutcracker Prince; making something sweetly intimate of their final pas de deux in delicate moonlight. Carrie Imler led the Waltz of the Flowers as if dancing on rose petals; Leah O’Connor tremulously brooded as a soulful Peacock. All have no doubt danced these roles countless times; all made them look new.

But the real reason to attend “Nutcracker” is the kids, both onstage and off. Dozens of children from the PNB School performed their roles with precision and delight, from the calmly elegant Mimi Jurion as young Clara to the two smallest Baby Mice, happily skipping. In the lobby, little girls in velvet whirled and leapt to music in their heads — you could almost see their dresses transformed into glittering tutus. “Nutcracker” brings that kind of snowflakes-and-sugarplums magic; just try to resist it.

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Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com