Saying Goodbye: Review of Pacific Northwest Ballet's Stowell and Sendak 'Nutcracker'

A girl's coming-of-age story is as magic as ever, but ready for an update

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Stowell and Sendak Nutcracker. Photo by Angela Sterling

When I first heard that this would be the last year that Pacific Northwest Ballet would hold its Stowell and Sendak Nutcracker, my heart did a little dip. Noooooo! I thought, miffed. What could be better than the whimsical sets, the unique choreography, the prissily perfect peacock and the fresh, artistic departure from traditional story components such as Mother Ginger and the Sugarplum Fairy?

There was no way I could miss this last performance before PNB reinvented its annual holiday show into something new — the next season of Nutcracker might indeed be magical and beautiful, I thought, but surely never a match for Stowell and Sendak.

This past week I settled into the plush theater seats with my 9-year-old daughter by my side. She has been watching PNB’s Nutcracker since the winter she was 5, when she and her little sister had gaped at the stage as long as they could before slumping together, asleep on their booster cushions as the twinkling notes of Tchaikovsky floated like so many dreamy snowflakes. I had been so eager then to take a kindergartener and toddler to this show, maybe a bit too soon. It seems like yesterday.

Photo by Angela Sterling

As the opening scene began this most recent evening, bringing us the winking genius of Sendak’s art and the sleeping young girl, Clara, on the cusp between childhood and adulthood, I thought about the timeless relevance of the story. More than any other year that I have seen it, Nutcracker seemed to me, this time, to be a feminist story, a celebration of that precious, delicate time when girls still play with toys but begin, too, to dream of travel and love.

Perhaps it is my own shifting world of parenting right now: I see my oldest girl suddenly approaching the cusp of change herself, navigating with increased intensity the path toward independence and those immutable questions of girlhood: Who am I? What will I become? How do I keep dreaming?

Photo by Angela Sterling

It is rare, if you think about it, for a mainstream production — especially a classic one — to give such space and focus to a story told through the eyes and experiences of a girl, that demographic often overlooked, ignored, undervalued. With my close-to-tween girl sitting beside me, I felt as never before the magic not only of the dancers, sets and score, but of the spotlight resting for two hours, in this theater and countless others around the planet, on the experience and emotions of a girl coming of age. I think my daughter felt it, too: Clara’s tentative steps toward the larger world; the tension of her effort to adhere to the social requirements of the party and her place in society; her yearning to escape, to spread her wings.

I was surprised to experience a familiar production in an entirely new way — this reminded me that art can mirror and illuminate our own evolution, struggles and experiences, that it can be different every time.

I was also surprised to note that, despite how PNB’s Stowell and Sendak Nutcracker spoke to me and my child in new ways this year, I also felt a sheen of datedness to the production. The cultural stereotypes and master-slave aura of the magical kingdom stood out like soured eggnog.

Pacific Northwest Ballet is already at work on a new production, with original scenic and costume designs by another inimitable children’s author and illustrator, Ian Falconer. I hope the production will bring with it an air of modernity and cultural regard even as it holds tight to the tradition of Nutcracker, as PNB promises it will.

Surprisingly, I find myself eagerly awaiting the changes around the corner.

If you go ...

When: This is the last season of the Stowell and Sendak Nutcracker. It runs from Nov. 28 to Saturday Dec. 29. Show times for this year’s 31 performances are listed online. Arrive early to allow time for parking, pre-ordering intermission snacks, participating in pre-show activities, and collecting booster seats. Nutcracker performances run approximately two hours, including one intermission.

Where: Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer Street, on the north edge of Seattle Center. Booster seats can be borrowed at no cost, and binoculars can be rented for $5. Snacks are expensive at McCaw Hall. You can bring your own, but be sure to keep them sealed and well-stowed during the performance. No food is allowed in the auditorium.

Tickets: Tickets range from $35–$146; buy online at Every family member must have a ticket, but the price is discounted for children 12 and under. There are no bad seats at McCaw Hall — do not hesitate to buy the cheapest seats available. Group discounts are available.

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.

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