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by Dean Speer
November 26, 2004
-- McCaw Hall Seattle, Washington
You know the holiday
season is upon us when the stores and streets are festively decorated
and when Nutcracker productions begin springing forth, practically
out of nowhere and catch us by surprise. One of the most enduring and
certainly probably the most spectacular of those available to audiences
in the greater Northwest is PNB’s 1983 Stowell/Sendak production that
has been acclaimed since it first tread the boards.
So what do over 115 props, 500 light bulbs, 40 stage hands, 200 pounds
of fireproof confetti paper, 500 pairs of pointe shoes, 190 costumes,
300 rehearsal hours, a 950 pound Christmas Tree, and 90,000 people all
have in common? PNB’s Nutcracker, of course!
Thirty seven shows are spread among a rotating cast for 187 roles that
are filled by the nearly 50 Company members and zillions of children from
PNB’s School (actually, it’s more like 220 from the School and 40 Professional
All this makes for a visual and aural feast that’s action-packed and unparalleled.
As busy as it is, it’s also visually clean and the lines are easy to follow.
One of the fun aspects for me is challenging myself to see how many details
I can spot that I haven’t noticed before. This round, it was the Pasha
that’s on the backside of one of the living room panels that we don’t
see until it’s pushed out on to the stage slightly and then turned as
it’s backed off stage during the transition to Scene II. Another – and
this may be an inside joke – is that Sendak’s visuals all have the eye
patch for Drosselmeier on his LEFT eye but each character dancer who’s
actually portraying this role wears it on the RIGHT side.
The young adult Clara (there is no Sugar Plum Fairy in this version) was
warmly danced by a radiant Mara Vinson and her handsome Prince by Casey
Herd. The Company is replete with great dancers to watch, so it’s hard
to pick out one particular dancer but Vinson has been “one to watch” over
the past couple of years and her recent promotion to Soloist has been
well-deserved. Their dancing was reassuring and gave me a feeling of confidence.
Carrie Imler brought authority to the part of Flora, the head blossom
in Waltz of the Flowers. At least that’s what I call this part, even though
it’s not identified as such in the printed program, although I seem to
recall that this used to be the case. This is a part that requires it
all – quicksilver technique, transitioning from big allegro to adagio
at the drop of a petal, fouetté pirouette turns that finish in grand rond
de jambe en l’air, beats, energy, and a winning smile.
Other stars included Stacy Lowenberg and Batkhurel Bold as Moors (aka
“Spanish”), Lesley Rausch, Chalnessa Eames and Jonathan Porretta as Commedia
(aka “Mirlitons”). Buy a ticket just to see Mr. Porretta’s turns and the
way he charges into every movement.
Taking a star turn in the pivotal role of Herr Drosselmeier was the choreographer
himself, Artistic Director Kent Stowell. He received a nice round of applause
at his first entrance (which is through the downstage left scenery). He
impressed me as being slightly nervous at first but relaxed into his part
as the evening progressed. It was fun seeing Mr. Stowell up on the stage
and a fitting tribute perhaps as a last “hurrah” before he and his wife,
Francia Russell, retire from their current positions at the end of June
At the baton in a zesty rendition of the famous and beloved score was
Conductor Stewart Kershaw, leading the PNB Orchestra.
This 1983 $600K investment (which has a much-storied and slightly tortuous
gestation and birth) has generated over $60M in its 21-plus years for
PNB. Not too bad at all. And we are so fortunate to have this major ballet
company and its high standard and product right here in our own backyard!
Go see it if you can. And if not, be sure to support your local Nutcracker
Edited by Holly Messitt
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