CriticalDance Forum

Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Nov 26, 2010 3:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

In anticipation of "The Nutcracker" opening tonight, Janet Tu has written a Seattle Times feature on Doug Fullington, assistant to artistic Director Peter Boal, on the challenges of scheduling the casts at each performance.

Seattle Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Nov 27, 2010 5:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

The A List
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Annual “Nutcracker”
Opening Night, 26 November 2010
Seattle, Washington

by Dean Speer

There is a trend amongst those in charge of casting to eschew the use of terms like “A” or “B” or even “1" or “2" when posting these important lists. Instead, we’ve evolved, perhaps in the attempt to suggest that all casts are equal, to using meaningless monikers like “Cast Yellow” or “Cast Eggplant.” I’ve even recently seen brain-teasers such as “Cast XBA” and “Cast BPK.”

I think we’re deluding ourselves. To paraphrase George Orwell, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

How true too for those dancers on stage and our beloved stars. All dancers are equal but some are definitely more equal than others.

Pacific Northwest Ballet pulled out all stops and put on its “A” cast list for its Opening Night of the perennial run of the Stowell/Sendak “Nutcracker.” I’ve been viewing this production since its premiere in 1983, when it replaced the former Lew Christensen production, and have been fortunate enough to have seen most, if not nearly all of the ensuing casts – from the original Clara, Alaina Albertson, the amazing muse in the persona of Deborah Hadley, the Commedia male of Adam Miller to today’s Benjamin Griffiths and many, many more. [If you want to see how Hadley liked to move and what her fearless strengths as a dancer are, just look at the choreography for the “Snow” pas de deux of Act I and the classic Pas de deux of Act II.]

This performance featured some of my current “more than equal” A cast favorites – Carla Körbes as Clara, Batkhurel Bold as her Prince, Olivier Wevers as Herr Drosselmeier and, as we say a long farewell, Ariana Lallone as Act II’s Peacock [Arabian].

The best Drosselmeier for years was former PNB School faculty member Flemming Halby who was perfect. I’m now amending this with Wevers. His comic and creepy timing [the character is one that young females should stay away from – and he takes pleasure in playing mean jokes] and adding some bits of business that I’ve not seen or noticed before, such as commanding through gesture and sound the Peacock to kneel during its solo, was great – bordering sheer genius.

The Peacock responded in kind – Lallone doubling her usual attack on battements and gestures, even the smallest tilt of the head in acquiescence to her “lord” were all there and clearly “said.” I think if Lallone had been a rocket, she would have taken off. Excellent balances, phrasing – use of rubato and the concluding three relevé arabesques turns en pointe were all nicely placed , well thought, and heavenly.

Jerome Tisserand has beautiful line and his foray into the character of the head of the Warrior Mice was quite strong and also well-phrased; lingering in poses long enough for us to see and enjoy them and zipping along into coupé jetés while summoning the rodent troops to battle.

Notable were newly promoted Sarah Ricard Orza as the Ballerina Doll, James Moore as the fearsome Sword-Dancer Doll whose clean and strong technique never have us wondering if he’ll get through the double tours, and Brittany Reid as what I see as the “head” [or the most equal] Snowflake – she is the one who, twice, stops and turns 180 degrees to continue or conclude this exciting scene.

As we mention the trim and tight corps work of the other Snowflakes and of the similarly large corps for Waltz of the Flowers – both of these big dances some of Stowell’s best choreographic inventions ever -- I’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Carrie Imler’s cheerful multiple double fouettés and entre chats as Flora. One of the most memorable past cast members in this part who truly was unbelievable was the superb and unique Colleen Neary, whose performances always sizzled. Imler doesn’t sizzle but sparkles like a rare and valuable diamond. Always an energetic dancer in this and other parts, I saw new octane levels being burned.

All of us need to be reminded how fortunate we are to have the mighty PNB Orchestra – 65 musicians blending into Tchaikovsky’s score with energy and a clear sound and style, under the baton of Allan Dameron. I recently toured one of the historic Shubert Theatres on the East coast, and was slightly appalled to learn that, at best, the orchestra pit can seat only 35. How lucky we are that we not only have the personnel to pull together such a huge undertaking as a full-fledged story ballet but we have the physical plant – in the form of McCaw Hall – to do it in.

A cast “A” performance by some of PNB’s best. Where all dancers are equal but some, luckily, as more equal than others. Right here in our own backyard – if you haven’t yet made plans to see Nutcracker, then do!

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Nov 29, 2010 3:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

Lynn Jacobson reviews the Friday, November 26, 2010 opening night performance in the Seattle Times.

Seattle Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Nov 30, 2010 1:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

Alice Kaderlan reviews the Sunday, November 28, 2010 evening performance in the Seattle P-I.

Seattle P-I

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Nov 30, 2010 2:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

See Alastair Macaulay's 2010 "Nutcracker" Marathon for his review of the Saturday, November 27, 2010 performances.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Dec 01, 2010 2:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

Scott Garrepy reviews the Friday, November 26, 2010 performance in The Sun Break.

Sun Break

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Dec 15, 2010 4:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

In the December 2010 Dance Magazine, Corps member Jessika Anspach talks about her strategies for surviving the long run of "Nutcracker" performances.

Dance Magazine

Author:  Dean Speer [ Wed Jan 05, 2011 1:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

Inside Out – Cracking Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Nutcracker”
Observations from Backstage, 22 December 2010

by Dean Speer

I was in balletic hog heaven. Advised to wear comfortable shoes, we met PNB’s Media Relations Director and cheerful liaison Gary Tucker, as directed at the Stage Door at promptly 7:20 p.m. and were ushered into the inner sanctum of the backstage catacombs of Seattle’s opera house, McCaw Hall, where Pacific Northwest Ballet has been presenting its annual “Nutcracker”since, it would seem, before time began.

We were introduced to Linny Andrews, who watches over the check-in of each cast member with steel in her back and a warm smile on her face, and were then given backstage passes, making us official. Her desk area is also the official post-show gathering place for proud parents and flush-faced young performers, gleefully greeting each other – including the son of two former PNB dancers and current faculty members, Alexandra Dickson and Timothy Lynch.

I was thrilled to be invited, even if briefly, to be “part” of the show, although unseen – fortunately – by the audience. It was quite an interesting ride. How much is done from behind the scenes, particularly with a production of this scale is truly impressive. Sets go galloping by at a low rumble pushed and pulled quickly and efficiently by I.A.T.S.E. Stage Crew members in black running shoes and cued by the stage manager. A giant mouse king [“it’s not a rat!”] is maneuvered by three husky crew members.

Battalions of wee PNB students line up in orderly fashion to execute a choreographed battle. There are acres of dancing snowflakes and petunias and lots of man-made special effects, including paper snow that’s collected during intermission, gone over with a very strong, heavy-duty magnet to ensure that no metal objects such as a bobby-pin has found its way in, and is then reused for the next show.

Some pieces of the stage dressing even have names such as those young cast members who sign their names to the back of “Toy Theatre” each season and even the steeds that are ridden/worn during the famous battle scene, bear the name of the first child who was cast long ago.

Excited dancers with varying degrees of experience – each following their own pre-performance ritual, quieting nerves and becoming focused – from quiet moments in a space by themselves to lightly teasing each other before they come on: “Are you going to be on the music this time?”

I was very impressed by how soloist Benjamin Griffiths came out well before intermission to limber and stretch – this is, of course, already after the full company on-stage warm-up class. He then took ahold of one of the shin-busters and did a few careful plié, tendu, and rélevés shortly before going on as Harlequin in “Commedia” during Act II (“Mirlitons”). This demonstrated clearly to me one aspect of why he’s a soloist – very focused and disciplined.

We were delighted to have the two principals – the lead Nutcracker Prince and the Adult Clara – Olivier Wevers and Chalnessa Eames come over afterward to say hello and to be able to offer our collective “Congratulations!” We had seen Wevers (and he had seen us) before his entrance but somehow by tacit and mutual agreement, didn’t want to break into his “space” before performing. I know from my own experiences, that so much of performing is mental preparation and that acknowledging and respecting this can be critical.

Both executed their respective assignments with aplomb, tact, and good taste. There are two challenging pas de deux in this version for the leads – Act I where many versions have a duet for a Snow King and Queen, and then later for the concluding Grand Pas de Deux and tutti coda of the last act. From the wings, both looked as if they were truly enjoying themselves and each other’s dancing, supporting each other – more than just the mechanics of partnering, and truly having fun.

I was struck by how the PNB Orchestra sounded from backstage and in the wings – as if being surrounded and enfolded by the waves of music. Yet, we were told, interestingly, that the backstage whispers and quiet conversations could not be heard from out front. It was also fun hearing the dancers discuss tempi – how one conductor might be versus another or how the same conductor will vary speeds from show to show.

The only thing requiring an initial emotional adjustment – while easy intellectually – was the inability to see each dance in its entirety. There are television monitors backstage so it’s possible to see what the audience sees but, of course, it’s not the same. Each scene seemed somehow incomplete.

I’m one person who has long felt an affinity for the theatre – it feels like a second home. Being one of the lucky few to be able to observe a major show from the viewpoint of an insider, was one that was thrilling, fun, and not soon to be forgetten.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Nov 17, 2011 3:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

Pacific Northwest Ballet performs "The Nutcracker" from November 25 through December 27, 2011. Here is a direct link to "The Nutcracker" home page on the PNB website.

The Nutcracker

Here is a link to casting.


Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sun Nov 20, 2011 11:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

In the Seattle Times, Moira Macdonald profiles the young dancers who perform in "The Nutcracker" for 2011.

Seattle Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Nov 23, 2011 2:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

Sandra Kurtz talks to corps de ballet members about "The Nutcracker" for the Seattle Weekly.

Seattle Weekly

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Nov 26, 2011 1:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

Rosemary Jones talks to PNB Music Director Emil de Cou about the music for "The Nutcracker" for the Seattle Dance Examiner.

Seattle Dance Examiner

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Nov 28, 2011 1:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

Melissa Davis reviews the Friday, November 25, 2011 performance of "The Nutcracker" for the Seattle Times.

Seattle Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Nov 28, 2011 11:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

Peter Sessum reviews the November 25, 2011 opening night cast for the Shoreline-Lake Forest Park Patch.

Shoreline-Lake Forest Park Patch

The same reviewer also contributed to the Seattle P-I.

Seattle P-I

Author:  Dean Speer [ Tue Nov 29, 2011 2:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Nutcracker

The Petunias Have It
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Nutcracker”
Opening Night, 25 November 2011

by Dean Speer

The best dancing of the evening came from Carrie Imler and the corps de ballet of “Waltz of the Flowers” in the Stowell/Sendak production of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s perennial and popular “Nutcracker.” Imler is experienced enough and confident enough to play with phrasing. Her response to the music, using rubato to hold certain poses and speed up other sequences gives us exciting and great dancing in the midst of the swirl of complex choreography for the corps of Flowers. Her multiple fouetté turns, sauté, batterie, and double pirouettes into grand rond de jambe were thrilling. She carried the energy and “line” of the choreography all the way off, through her placed and elevated saut de chat exit, during one phrase. I probably haven’t been this pleased since Colleen Neary – who sizzled in the role – did the part many seasons ago.

This corps was tight too, allowing us to see clearly Stowell’s intricate designs. They were together as an ensemble throughout, etching each phrase and shape with exactitude.

A colleague likes to say that he expects greatness, and we certainly got that here.

In terms of functionality, though perhaps not in real time, we’re already one generation away from the PNB School students and Company dancers working with Stowell [and Francia Russell] on a regular basis. This showed, perhaps unfairly, in the opening night cast in some cases where the dancers looked as if they were doing movement they were told to do – and correctly so – but which lacked the inner conviction of understanding. [Now we jiggle our heads, now we go over here and pose, now we do these steps.] I’ve not noticed this in past years, and have to attribute it to this. It lacks the spontaneity of the moment and depth of understanding. As has been often observed in other contexts, “Good choreography looks improvised and good improvisation looks choreographed.” We might loosely interpret this by substituting the word ‘dancing’ for choreography. It is up the artists, or group of artists, to make each scene and step his or her own and to dig into the raison d’etre behind it.

This is an instance where I’d have to disagree with Mr. Balanchine’s admonition to “...just do the steps, dear.” That works if you understand [and believe in] the creating artist, perhaps by working side-by-side with them on a daily basis. It works less well if not. This is why PNB [and other dance companies] will bring in stagers, authorized to set works – as it’s not so much about the steps, as critical as those are – as it is about the intent.

Dance is at best fleeting, and the “shape” of it can get lost or out of focus, inadvertently, in a matter of a few minutes. I’ve had this happen in technique class with my own students in just two or three moments, so imagine the enormous job of putting together a very big production with a huge cast, multiple dances, and scenic elements and music. It’s really quite amazing that sometimes the whole doesn’t fall apart at the seams. Never the less, I’m confident that the ballet will coalesce and “season.”

This is why those sections with the “older” dancers succeeded so well, such as Imler, and were truly great. They revealed to us what this “Nutcracker” was about and their respective part in it.

Speaking of great, we have to mention Seth Orza’s turn as the Prince. His energy and attack of each step and phrase were also quite pleasing, really attacking the double assemblés, whipping through each spot of his multiple pirouettes, and cracking the beats so much, they were audible (whilst in the air). Of believing, he is an artist who believes and gets under the skin of each of his roles. Whatever he may have been thinking or feeling, personally, it very much looked liked he was rather enjoying himself and relishing the opportunity to show his abilities.

One of Maria Chapman’s natural abilities is to light up the expanse of an auditorium and this is well-suited for the part of Adult Clara – her technique superior and clean, with each moment etched in time.

My only fuss for each was to have better worked out the exact gestures, pacing and timing of the miming of Act II’s opening scene on the boat. There were a couple of times where they almost got ahead of themselves, being tempted to point to the water before the leaping fish actually did their thing, and thus having to hold themselves back and re-direct and ending up repeating a couple of redundant gestures. So this cute, miniature moment became a little flatter than what was intended and didn’t quite build as much as it could have. They knew what was coming up, but we, the audience, having suspended our disbelief (even if we’ve seen the production a zillion times before) haven’t seen this magical moment yet. Again, I think everyone will settle into this as the run progresses. Opening Night excitement and high performance energy, and rarin’ to go.

Other highlights for me include the Snow scene which wraps up Act I. This is probably the best version of this iconic dance anywhere – in terms of production values, it’s just plain lovely and Stowell’s concept and resultant choreography really looks and feels like swirling snow being driven by the wind, ever-changing, building to quite the storm by curtain (and Sendak Nutcracker teeth) fall.

As always, I enjoyed each of the divertissements – from the exciting and daring Dervishes [Kyle Davis, Jerome Tisserand, and Ezra Thomson] to the Commedia [aka, Mirlitons] crisply danced by Kylee Kitchens, James Moore, and Sarah Richard Orza. Lesley Rausch’s high extension, still balances, and arabesque turns as Peacock were noteworthy and appropriately exotic.

As generations of performers succeed, it’s fun to note that Fritz in Act I was neatly played by the son, William Lynch, of two former PNB dancers, Alexandra Dickson and her husband, Timothy Lynch [both now on the PNB faculty].

Emil de Cou is quickly easing into his role as Music Director/Conductor of the PNB Orchestra. I liked the pacing and pace he took with the score for opening night. He kept it moving, yet it didn’t seem rushed or too fast – he let it breathe.

PNB has the policy of not loaning this unique production out and for good reason – it’s one-of-a-kind and doing so would tend to dilute the impact – and draw – that it inspires.

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