Twenty Nine Times...and Counting
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Nutcracker”
Opening Night, 7 December 2012
by Dean Speer
No matter how many times I see a “Nutcracker” production, I still find myself getting as excited with anticipation as I did with my first. Pacific Northwest Ballet is inching toward the 30th anniversary year of its unique Stowell/Sendak creation and I cannot believe my viewing has included not only its first year but also a few of the preceding years, when they did the Lew Christensen version during their fledgling years.
Little has changed during these ensuing years – the addition of a brigade of soldiers on horseback a notable one – and the quality and level of dancing has remained consistently high. The production values are themselves extraordinary and the costume shop likes to tell us that very few of the original costumes themselves remain, many having been replaced or refurbished.
Nevertheless, it’s a fresh invention and one that is thrilling on many levels – the Snow Scene and Act II’s Waltz of the Flowers are choreographic genius and most fun.
This year’s Opening Night brought out PNB’s A-cast – Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta as the Adult Clara and her Nutcracker Prince, who were, without a doubt, totally fabulous. I enjoy how these superb technicians not only completely trust each other but also egg each other on, pushing each other's boundaries and meshing as a team.
Yet the evening belonged to Carrie Imler whose Flora in Waltz of the Flowers illustrated everything it should and needed to be – light, with phrases that built, and balances, jumps, and turns galore. In the short fouetté section, she did consistent rapid doubles concluding with a triple that stuck its landing. Great. Thrilling. Imler is one of those dancers who anticipates and the result pays off big.
Of course the platoons of well-trained and meticulously rehearsed and adorable youngsters are part of the reason many go– to admire and sigh over their skills and abilities.
Notable too were Kiyon Gaines as the Sword Dancer and Kylee Kitchens as the Ballerina Doll in Act I’s Party Scene, Act II’s Whirling Dervishes of Benjamin Griffiths, Ezra Thomson and Price Suddarth, and Leah O'Connor as the colorful Peacock. [Have you ever noticed that this male bird is ironically danced by females? One of the marvelous “suspensions of disbelief” of the theatre.]
The truly mighty PNB Orchestra under the baton of Emil de Cou is a treasure – we are one of the few ballet companies to have its own orchestra, and it happens to be one of the best. My only fuss is that de Cou could have relaxed the pace a bit for the coda of the Grand Pas de deux. It was a bit speedy and it seemed to me that Nakamura and Porretta were on edge of the tempo cliff. They kept up but it would have been nice to have had a bit more room for them to have been able to enjoy the tempo at that juncture, rather than having to be concerned about missing the speeding train.
A destination ballet, PNB’s iconic “Nutcracker” continues to thrill, bedazzle, and transport. A little bit of ballet heaven right in our own backyard.