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At Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” which opened its run last Friday, all was delightfully familiar: the hordes of children in tutu-skirted dresses and holiday sweaters; the flurried picture-taking in the lobby alongside “Nutcracker” characters; the delicious Tchaikovsky score wafting up from the orchestra pit; and on stage, the limpid Peacock, the enormous Mouse King, the boat whisking Clara and her Prince to a magical land — and those big white Nutcracker teeth, closing on what’s now the 31st edition of this holiday perennial, choreographed by Kent Stowell and magnificently designed by Maurice Sendak.

But one small section of the lobby spoke of change: A table near the ticket window displayed costume sketches, fabric swatches, a short behind-the-scenes video — reminding audiences that this is the final run for the Stowell/Sendak version. A “Nut” choreographed by George Balanchine for New York City Ballet in 1954 and newly designed by Ian Falconer (best known for the “Olivia” children’s book series) will be unveiled next year. The display indicates a very, very different look, with bright colors (Clara’s in stripes!) in marked contrast to Sendak’s rainbow of muted pastels. It’s just a tantalizing hint, but looks like great fun.

For now, though, it’s time for one last gaze at what’s become a tradition for generations of Seattleites. How lucky have we been, to watch this ballet year after year? All of us have favorite things within it; mine are the whimsical patchwork Commedia costumes in Act II, the parade of “small servants” with their quietly glowing lanterns, the tiniest cast member (a little girl in a big hat) who clearly has way too much fun at the party. And it’s a pleasure to watch the PNB dancers make roles their own: on opening night, Lesley Rausch (Clara), Jerome Tisserand (Prince), Carrie Imler (Flora), Lindsi Dec (Peacock), with PNB student Genevieve Knight (young Clara) and longtime character artist Uko Gorter (Drosselmeier), made each of us believe that they were telling this story for the first time.

It’s been a long and happy run for the Stowell/Sendak “Nutcracker,” and it will be missed by many. But the Tchaikovsky music (particularly that beautiful, achingly noble passage in Act I, just before the Snowflakes), the sparkling party atmosphere of opening night, the mesmerized-into-silence gazes of little children clutching their stuffed animals as they watch this holiday ballet for the first time — all of that will be back, every year. And that’s the real magic of “Nutcracker” — in, well, a nutshell.

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