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Pacific Northwest Ballet - 'The Nutcracker'

Catching up with the season

by Dean Speer

November 26, 2004 -- McGaw 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 Pacific Northwest Ballet’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!

37 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 Division students.)

All this makes for a visual and aural feast that’s unparalleled and action-packed. 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 hadn’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 onto 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 any 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. She and Herd's dancing was reassuring and gave me a feeling of confidence.

Carrie Imler brought authority to the part of Flora, the head blossom in the 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 how 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 2005.

At the baton in a zesty rendition of the famous and beloved score was Conductor Stewart Kershaw, leading the Pacific Northwest Ballet 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 Jeff.

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