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Pacific Northwest Ballet's 'Nutcracker'

by Dean Speer

November 24, 2006 -- McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

Ever eavesdropping on comments and conversations made by unsuspecting audience members, I often use this scientific method of in-depth research to conduct my own private surveys. Such was the case for PNB’s Opening Night of their justly-famous and long-running hit- Kent Stowell and Maurice Sendak’s collaboration “Nutcracker.”

The verdict that I liked was “...full-service!” and I found I had to agree. This production really has and gives us everything: glorious and uplifting music, dramatic tension, imaginative and fresh choreography, lavish sets and costumes, perfect lighting, and great dancing and dance-acting by its platoon of multiple casts.

Now in its 24th year, this PNB holiday offering continues to delight audiences of all ages and to astonish repeat goers. Opening night audiences certainly got an “A” cast with Louise Nadeau as the adult Clara and Olivier Wevers as her dashing prince. Nadeau was “... in the moment” particularly during the Snow Pas de Deux. Both were elegant and strong for their respective variations and, later, for the Grand Pas de Deux near the conclusion of Act II. Nadeau has mastered such nuances as looking away from her foot and leg in order to make us look at them. Every step and movement sang. Wevers attacked his solo bits with neat phrasing. I liked how he mindfully presented his partner. For example, he gestured his right arm across as Nadeau began her series of rapid chainé and soutenu turns in his direction.

Carrie Imler as the lead bloom in ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ was in fine form and danced with attack throughout. I delight in seeing Ariana Lallone, and her rendition of ‘Peacock’ certainly met my expectation. This is never a role to impart fragility, so her verve and mighty phrasing served well. Lallone’s arabesque turns and piqué arabesque pirouettes in forced-arch relevé were exciting. She deserved the cheering she got during curtain call. Charming during the fast-paced ‘Commedia’ was the trio of Maria Chapman,, Mara Vinson, and Benjamin Griffiths; it really is a showcase for all three. Uko Gorter’s characterization of Herr Drosselmeier had bits of light humor in it that others have not necessarily emphasized but which I enjoyed. Other outstanding soloists were Jodie Thomas as the Ballerina Doll and Kiyon Gaines as the Sword-Dancer Doll. The Masque that’s unique to this production (where a trio reenacts young Clara’s nightmare about being bitten by the Rat King and turning suddenly into a old maid) features clean, classical steps and patterns by Stowell.  Each of these were nicely etched by Lesley Rausch, Anton Pankevitch, and Lucien Postlewaite. Postlewaite has a very long elegant line, true turnout, and a ‘real’ arabesque, which is great to see on a male dancer.

The corps and cast were clearly well-rehearsed and looked tight as an ensemble down to the tiniest detail.  The PNB Orchestra was energetic and ready for its role of supporting and inspiring both what was onstage and in the house. Conductor Stewart Kershaw has led hundreds of shows.  His musical taste, keen and watchful eye on the dancers and score, and his experience allow us to fully enjoy this “full-service” Nutcracker indeed.

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