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Pacific Northwest Ballet - 'Nutcracker'

Humming along

by Dean Speer

November 26, 2005 evening -- Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

Ba, tuuh, daa, ti, da, de, dah, di, dah, dah, dah, di, daah. Oops, that’s the waltz from “Sleeping Beauty” – another balletic Tchaikovsky favorite. What I meant was: Omm-chuck-chuck, Omm-chuck-chuck; la ta ti ta de dah, la ta da di dah dah di dah; la da di da domp; la da di da domp, la da di dah da de da da de dah; repeat. Dancing plants in 3/4 time.

While all parts of that perennial holiday favorite are delectable, some parts are those that we wait for all evening or from year-to-year. Musically, for me, it’s the “Waltz of Flowers” -- ”Waltz of the Petunias” is my personal term of endearment -- the thrilling music that accompanies the growing of the Christmas tree and later, the corps’ appearance as swirling snowflakes. Choreographically, the “big” piece is the Grand Pas de Deux that climaxes Act II, before the denouement.

I was a-hummin’ and bouncing on my toes in anticipation of seeing Pacific Northwest Ballet’s justly-famous Kent Stowell/Maurice Sendak production. I particularly wanted to see a cast that was new to me: Kaori Nakamura as Adult Clara and Jeffrey Stanton as her Nutcracker Prince. In Act II, I was also wanted to indulge myself with the pleasure of Ariana Lallone’s Flora in ‘Flowers.’ It was also fun seeing Carla Körbes making her Peacock début. She is a soloist new to the Company, fresh from New York City Ballet.

I was not disappointed. All that wonderful energy, excitement – on both sides of the footlights – and beautiful dancing. While there were some minor early-in-the-run kinds of things that I observed (such as a new company member accidentally blocking the view of Young Clara while she put her new Nutcracker away in the upstage toy box), the overall effect is still one that thrills and satisfies even after many, multiple viewings of this version since its premier in 1983.

Character dancer Flemming Halby is one of the best Drosselmeiers around. He infuses every moment and gesture with meaning and really helps make the Party Scene not just a pleasant thing to be patiently endured while we wait for the “real” dancing to begin. While practiced, he nevertheless makes his reading of his character seem spontaneous. It’s also interesting to note how carefully he did each bit.

Nakamura and Stanton were the couple of the evening. She has prodigious technique and acting ability that has increased with experience, offering a very strong interpretation of Stowell’s choreographic vision for this part. Stanton does everything with his whole artistic being. His interpretation was powerful from the moment he rose from the floor following the Battle Scene all the way through his departure in the magic sailboat, leaving poor Clara to confront her worst nightmare, revealed in the form of the Pasha/Drosselmeier.

A marvelously tall stem herself, Lallone’s Flora was the bud in full blossom, the radiant cheer of midday glory. She moves the way I like to move and like to see: big and full, as if the stage could hardly contain the steps and patterns. She really whipped off the fouettés and pirouettes, and even with all of the demands of this part, she seemed to have energy to spare. Stowell’s inventive use of the corps and his integration of this solo part is one of his best creations. The seven-plus minutes just flow along and seem just right. My only long-time choreographic wish would be to have Flora jump or fold down to floor and then pop up or rise to a standing or relevé pose at the end, rather than to step quickly into place with no change of level. Probably something that will never change, yet it’s something that my eye finds itself expecting.

Lallone is an artist of the first rank and since I’m on a wish list kick, I’d like to lobby to see her do Odette/Odile someday. Surely there are a couple of equally tall-stemmed men who would fill the Siegfried partnering opportunity well.

Lastly, I was pleased to see – in keeping with long-established company practice –corps dancers and soloists being given the opportunity to shine. At this performance it was great to see the cheerful Maria Chapman as the Ballerina Doll, for example.

The PNB Orchestra sounded great under the baton of Allan Dameron. For many years PNB has used two female singers instead of a boys chorus for the snow scene, and it’s a move I can really applaud. Having a boys’ chorus would be a logistical challenge for 40 performances and I’ve come to like hearing this “instrumentation.” They are also used in the Party Scene for one of the unique features of this production: the masque to Mozart where Clara sees her Prologue/Overture nightmare being acted out. I’ve gotten so used to this insertion that now, when I see other productions far and near, I find myself expecting to hear Mozart at this juncture.

PNB’s production is one over which much ink has been spilled and rightly so. My colleagues, friends and I look forward to future viewings.

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