By John Kubalak
I’m not a big fan of traditional ballet. My wife and daughter, however, have been making the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of Nutcracker a seasonal tradition for the last few years. I say seasonal because, for me, Christmas starts somewhere around Dec. 20 (shocking, I know, how do I manage to get into the spirit so early?).
Of course, Nutcracker is typically the milieu of young girls in pretty dresses and small boys thrilled by battling mice and toy soldiers. It had been awhile since I’d seen it and I was curious how the production would fit the changing tastes of our 8-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son.
Our daughter was, needless to say, thrilled. She tried on several outfits and was chagrined to find that last year’s ensemble had mysteriously turned into a miniskirt. However, once she found an appropriately fabulous dress she spent a lot of time speculating on which dance would be her favorite this year. The peacock is always a top choice, as is the Waltz of the Snowflakes. She revised her list numerous times as the date of the performance approached.
Our son has always been a snappy dresser — I think these things skip a generation, as he certainly doesn’t get it from me — and was happy to slip into some sharp duds. For him, however, it wasn’t as much about the dance as the sets and the costumes, and frankly I can’t blame him.
At this point I would be surprised if there were any resident of the Pacific coast from Alaska to Mexico who wasn’t aware of the fact that PNB’s nationally recognized Nutcracker production comes complete with sets and costumes by Maurice Sendak. I can’t imagine any 11-year-old boy (or me for that matter) not being fascinated by the stage mechanics of the frequent and sometimes spectacular scene changes. The growing Christmas tree, the Mouse King attacking the soldiers, the rolling waves and leaping dolphins, not to mention the giant Monty Python-esque teeth of the nutcracker opening and closing the whole show — it’s a marvelous theatrical spectacle.
Considering that Sendak’s art is so identifiable with children’s literature, if ever there were a production of Nutcracker that was accessible to children, this would be it. Add to that the fact that each year over 200 children, students from the PNB’s dance school, participate in the show and you have a unique opportunity for kids to engage and relate to this professional production. While it must be an organizational nightmare, I think it’s a masterstroke on the part of the PNB to get children involved and interested in dance.
I’m not sure what they’ve changed from Nutcracker in previous years, but this time around I felt the staging was tight and moved along at a good pace. The orchestra, conducted by Allan Dameron, played beautifully. Some of the solos, like the peacock performed by Lindsi Dec, were predictable crowd-pleasers and my wife was particularly fond of James Moore as the prince. Apparently he has a very charming smile.
When the lights came up after the final curtain, a voice filled the hushed McCaw Hall with an exuberant shout of “Awesome!”
Do I really need to say anything more?