Move over, Nutcracker. The holiday classic is usually the ballet of choice for introducing children to the art. But Cinderella, which opened Pacific Northwest Ballet's 40th Anniversary season last week, is a perfect family ballet, with a story much more familiar to kids than the story of the Nutcracker.
Sergei Prokofiev’s dreamy score may have a lullaby effect on the very young, but the costumes and dancing are certainly enough to keep kids’ attention. (As a general rule, if your child can sit through a movie, they can handle the ballet. However, if you find out too late that you’ve picked the wrong day to try something new, you can still watch the show on the monitors from the lobby.)
Choreographed by Kent Stowell, under whose artistic direction Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) grew to national prominence, this version of Cinderella puts the focus on romance, paying much more attention to Cinderella’s own feelings and dreams than earlier tragi-comic versions of the dance. That said, there is not too much mooning about – the ugly stepsisters offer plenty of buffoonery and comic gags to entertain youngsters, and any doubting little boys will surely be impressed by the athleticism of the jester’s solo in Act Two. Cinderella also features roles for quite a few children from the ballet school.
Every matinee performance of Cinderella is a dress-up performance, when children are encouraged to come in royal garb (although children, costumed or otherwise, are welcome at any show). Crafts and activities, including dance lessons and magic wand-making, are offered in the lobby beginning one hour before the performance (crafts are also available during intermissions). Most significantly, dress-up matinee performances are full of children, whose parents are less likely than the average theater-goer to mind a child's whispered questions. If the dance captures their interest, older kids might appreciate the informal Q&A with dancers afterwards.
At last Saturday’s matinee, my three year-old was instantly able to identify the main characters as they were introduced in Act One, and although she had many questions throughout, was able to follow the story. After the initial spectacle of the ballroom dancers and Cinderella’s entrance in Act Two, she began to agitate for snacks, and wasn’t able to fully appreciate the impressive dances that entertained guests at the ball. Stowell moves the story along briskly in Act Three, wisely keeping the final act short. Once reunited, the prince and Cinderella are transported to a magical land for a pas de deux (the dance equivalent of a duet). The curtain falls as Cinderella, supported by the prince, spins slowly en pointe like a jewelry box ballerina; a perfect ending for a first ballet.
If you go ...
When: There are five performances left: Thursday, September 27, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, September 28, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, September 29, 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, September 30, 1 p.m. Arrive early to allow time for parking, pre-ordering intermission snacks, participating in activities, and collecting booster seats.
Tickets: Purchase online at pnb.org. Tickets start at $28 and go up to nearly $200. Every family member must have a ticket. There are no bad seats at McCaw Hall – do not hesitate to buy the cheapest seats available. Tickets can be purchased online.
Where: Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer Street, on the north edge of Seattle Center.
Tips: Booster seats can be borrowed at no cost, and binoculars can be rented for $5. Snacks are expensive at McCaw Hall, but the cost supports the arts, and once a preschooler has spotted a pink frosted cupcake with a plastic ballerina on top, it’s hard to say no. If you really can’t bring yourself to spring for the $6 cupcakes, you can bring snacks, but be sure to keep them sealed and well-stowed during the performance. No food is allowed in the auditorium.
Parking: The Mercer Garage is connected to McCaw Hall by a sky bridge. Rates vary from $5-$15 depending on events at Seattle Center. Other pay lots in the neighborhood have similar pricing. Street parking is limited to 4 hours, and hard to come by. Consider taking the bus – look online to plan your route.