Pacific Northwest Ballet “Nutcracker”
Opening Night, Friday 24 November 2006
by Dean Speer
Ever alert to overhearing and 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, the Kent Stowell and Maurice Sendack 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; not to mention 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 continues 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 was dashing and attacked his solo bits with neat phrasing. I liked how he mindfully presented his partner – for example, how he gestured his right arm from across left to up right 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 – double fouettés turns, a triple attitude turn. Nice attack throughout. You’ve probably guessed by now, that I delight in seeing Ariana Lallone and her rendition of ‘Peacock’ certainly met my expectation. This is never a part to impart fragility and 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’ were 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 and each of these were nicely etched by Lesley Rausch, Anton Pankevitch, and Lucien Postlewaite. Postlewaite has a very long, elegant line and 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 and were an ensemble down to the tiniest detail. Speaking of tiny, I have to indulge myself and mention that the “Little Girl” of the Act I’ Party Scene was played by the granddaughter of a couple that I know. Lucie Lundquist represents that next generation of potential future dancers and of adoring audiences who will grow up with and learn to appreciate their own Nutcracker traditions.
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 and his musical taste, keen and watchful eye on the dancers and score, plus his experience allow us to fully enjoy this “full-service” Nutcracker indeed.