McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St. (Seattle Center), 441-2424, pnb.org. $25–$140. Runs near daily through Dec. 27.
When Kent Stowell and Francia Russell went to their Pacific Northwest Ballet board of directors more than 30 years ago to say that they wanted to create a new Nutcracker, and that they wanted it to be designed by Maurice Sendak, the response was mixed. It’s an exciting idea, sure, but it sounds expensive—and don’t we already have a perfectly fine Nutcracker? The board committed to going ahead, but when the bills started coming in, things got quite tense. Yet in the best tradition of fairy tales and Hollywood musicals, ticket presales were strong, the show was a hit, and PNB has been hip-deep in the Stowell/Sendak production ever since.
Theirs was a very specific vision for Nutcracker: Unlike so many productions that borrow here and there from other sources, PNB’s has a unique and distinct style, going back to the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story—as spooky as it is sweet—for a scenario that puts young heroine Clara at the cusp of adulthood. And by shifting the second act to an “Oriental” court, full of Asian, African, and Middle Eastern references, the setting has more substance than a mere Land of the Sweets.
Saturday’s opening night was a welcome return to that familiar territory. In the Act 1 party scene, Uko Gorter was like an overgrown boy as the eccentric toymaker Drosselmeier, more at home making mischief with children than chatting with adults. Later playing the Pasha, he was a tinpot tyrant, cracking his whip but thwarted when trying to dance with Clara. Benjamin Griffiths was deceptive as the Nutcracker Prince—his technique is so clear, both in the dancing and the mime, that we almost miss the virtuosic nature of his solos. As grown-up Clara, Kaori Nakamura still had a childlike zest as she plopped down with a little bounce to sit on a cushion. Lindsi Dec was a very glamorous Peacock; and, in a last-minute substitution, Margaret Mullin swooped through the speedy choreography for the Waltz of the Flowers.
Between the ballet’s lavish details and the plethora of family-oriented activities at McCaw Hall, it was already a full evening. Things got even sweeter during intermission, when we watched a couple get engaged in the main lobby. There’s no guarantee this’ll happen at every performance, but you never know.