Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is semi-new to Seattle, but it will soon be an old friend.
It’s a funny thing about “The Nutcracker” — the one you vividly remember is, perhaps, the one you saw first. (I can still conjure up the shivery feeling of, at early grade-school age, being absolutely dazzled by a friend’s ballet-recital “Nutcracker,” which took place in a high-school gym with folding chairs.)
For a lot of us around here, our “Nutcracker” memories were set with the fantastical designs of Maurice Sendak, who created the popular Pacific Northwest Ballet version with choreographer Kent Stowell. It ran for several decades — long enough for former kids to bring their own kids — before its final performances in 2014.
‘George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker’
Pacific Northwest Ballet, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle, through Dec. 28, $25-$190 (pnb.org or 206-441-2424).
The smallest audience members at PNB’s semi-new “The Nutcracker” — choreographed in 1954 by George Balanchine to Tchaikovsky’s treasure-box score, and newly designed last year by children’s author Ian Falconer — are, however, in good hands. They’ll grow up thinking of a Clara in a party dress of bold red-and-white stripes and black sash, of a Sugar Plum Fairy sparkling in a tutu the color of a grape gumdrop, of a “Waltz of the Flowers” that blooms in lush shades of coral, pink and sea foam green. And, when they’re old enough to notice, they’ll be charmed by this production’s warmhearted choreography and imaginative designs, and by its many moments that allow PNB’s dancers to shine.
Friday’s opening-night performance, as always, featured fine work by young dancers from the PNB School: Eden Anan was a sweetly wistful Clara, Owen Odegard suitably naughty as her brother Fritz, and Owen Thompson charmingly regal as Nathaniel, the young man transformed into a Nutcracker Prince. On the grown-up side, Leta Biasucci — whose dancing exudes joy at every step — made a delicate Sugar Plum, ably partnered by Benjamin Griffiths for a hauntingly lovely pas de deux. (Watch closely during the lifts; you’ll believe this fairy can fly.) Noelani Pantastico made a glowing Dewdrop, swaying as if blown by a fragrant breeze.
Some bumpiness I remember from last year’s premiere has been smoothed out, most notably Balanchine’s magical gliding effect in the final pas de deux. And a brand-new video, from the local artists of Straightface Studios, made a welcome background for Michael Jinsoo Lim’s sensitive violin solo, a calm post-party interlude in Act I.
For so many of us, including surely all those adorable toddlers I spotted on opening night, “Nutcracker” is our first ballet, a gateway into a world of airy beauty. This version, as it settles into its long run, deserves to be enshrined in memories. I imagine many of those young viewers, hurried into bed after getting home Friday night, dreamed of mice and flying sleighs and sugar-crusted tutus. It’s still a new “Nutcracker,” but soon it’ll be an old friend.