Costumes, set design and labor – three vital components of bringing a holiday tradition to the Northwest.

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When George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” was first staged in 1954, the choreographer spent more than half of his $40,000 budget on the tree alone. It seems extravagant (especially considering this would be nearly $200,000 with inflation), but Balanchine felt compelled to perfect every detail. And like weddings, avocados, and Seattle rent, ballets are expensive.

Polichinelle boy costume (left) and girl costume. (Photo by Lindsay Thomas)
Polichinelle boy costume (left) and girl costume. (Photo by Lindsay Thomas)

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” first came to life in 2015. It took over three years to plan the show before bringing it to the stage.

The money was spent on costumes, set design and labor – the three vital components of bringing a new holiday tradition to the Northwest.

Costumes

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A wardrobe team of over 50 people worked together to stitch, paint, drape and build over 154 costumes by hand. Their seemingly endless work resulted in a few impressive figures:

  • Skirts for 16 Snowflakes (plus extras!) with nine layers of fabric and 56 points per skirt
  • Eight Polichinelle costumes exhibiting 640 black pompoms
  • Nineteen “Waltz of the Flowers” skirts with 760 total petals
  • One 10-foot, 60-pound Mother Ginger skirt
  • Marzipan doily tutus and headpieces with 4,000 hand-cut holes
  • Two Arabian (peacock) headpieces with 300 hand-sewn jewels
  • Seven Spanish dresses featuring 2,568 sewn-on appliqués
  • Hairpieces featuring 500 yards of tubular horsehair
  • Seventeen mice, donning 98 yards of fabric for their fur

More on those mice: Eight adults and eight young mice, plus one intimidating seven-headed mouse king were built by local artist Erik Andor and a team of fabricators. Laid end-to-end, their upper lips measure out to a hefty 782 inches. And if you get a chance to count all of their whiskers, you’ll find 230 in total.

Another costly element of “The Nutcracker” involves providing shoes for dancers – sometimes three pairs per performance. At about $100 a pop, pointe shoes alone cost $260,000 for an entire season.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” first came to life in 2015. It took over three years to plan the show before bringing it to the stage. (Provided by Pacific Northwest Ballet)

Scenic Design

It took a crew of 35 to build and paint PNB’s “Nutcracker” sets and props. Audience members will notice their work throughout the two-hour performance: There are 22 total painted drops, 3,000 square yards of fabric, 343 gallons of paint and 30 cubic feet of fake snow.

Perhaps inspired by George Balanchine’s $20,000+ tree, PNB staff members spent 400 hours creating the tree on the “Nutcracker” set. With 450 lights, the tree stands 40 feet tall.

Another glamorous scenic bit of PNB’s “Nutcracker” is the iconic “Winter Star” by Dale Chihuly. The piece debuted as part of the artist’s “Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000” exhibition, and has also been exhibited at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (near London) and New York Botanical Garden.

People

For day-to-day operations alone, PNB employs an impressive artistic staff of about 50 dancers, three ballet masters, 60 PNB Orchestra musicians, 20 faculty members, 14 in-school teaching artists, 30 in-studio accompanists, one drummer, 12 costumers and wardrobe artists, a team of backstage artists (charged with dress, hair and makeup), seven in the box office, six scenic artists, two stage managers, 11 Pilates instructors, and a wellness team of another seven experts.

That’s not even counting an administrative staff of about 50 in charge of school supervision, marketing, fundraising, audience education and so much more.

Including temporary outside hires required to pull the massive project together, nearly 100 individuals created the physical components of PNB’s production of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.” Everything was completed by hand over the course of 18 months.

See The Nutcracker,” with Tchaikovsky’s cherished score played live by the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, the brilliant dancing of PNB dancers, Ian Falconer’s new scenery and costumes, and Seattle Center’s McCaw Hall all dressed up for the holidays.