‘Nutcracker’ tradition lives on at Pacific Northwest Ballet, local venues

  • Wed Nov 23rd, 2011 2:27pm
  • Life

By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer

Three decades ago, a new vision of Sugar Plum Fairies danced through the creative minds of Kent Stowell and Maurice Sendak.

Stowell, then the artistic director for Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Sendak, the famed children’s book illustrator, set out to create a new “Nutcracker.”

Their work has become the mainstay for PNB, thriving through 28 seasons and creating a holiday tradition for generations.

The two men relied on the source material used more than a century earlier, half a world away when the original “Nutcracker” first was conceived.

They re-read E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” the book that inspired French writer Alexandre Dumas and ultimately the Russian composer Pyotr Ilych Tchiakovsky.

The story is timeless. A girl, Clara, receives a nutcracker doll at a Christmas party; that night her dreams come to life on stage with dancing mice, snowfall and a small army of child dancers.

It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the “Nutcracker” become the centerpiece of American ballet, as much a part of December merriment as Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”

Surrounded by the stunning Sendak sets, PNB’s “Nutcracker” features a huge cast of children, including many from Snohomish County.

Closer to home, the Olympic Ballet Theatre mounts a different “Nutcracker” which they perform on three stages from one end of the county to the next.

This year, artistic directors Mara Vinson and Oleg Gorboulev have changed the choreography for the end of the first act through the end of the ballet.

Clara’s dream takes on new forms and meaning. As the nutcracker transforms into a soldier, Clara blossoms from a girl into a woman.

Also, Vinson and Gorboulev cast Drosselmeyer, the man who gives Clara the doll, in a bigger role.

The dancing becomes more challenging this year because the troupe is more talented, Vinson said.

“We felt that they were ready to be pushed,” she said.

Thanks to the family-friendly story, wonderful costumes and a soaring score, the Nutcracker is good opportunity to introduce children to classical ballet.

“It’s constantly moving. It’s entertaining,” Vinson said.

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; jholtz@heraldnet.com.

Where to see ‘The Nutcracker’

Pacific Northwest Ballet: 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 25 through Dec. 23, plus 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, Dec. 14 through 22, 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Dec. 24, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 26 and Dec. 27, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St. Tickets are $26 and up; 206-441-2424; www.pnb.org.

Olympic Ballet Theatre: Performances at three locations beginning Dec. 4 through Dec. 18; 2 p.m. Dec. 4; 10:30 a.m. Dec. 5, Byrnes Performaning Arts Center, Arlington; 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., Dec. 9, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec 10, 2 p.m. Dec. 11, Everett Performing Arts Center, Everett. 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., Dec. 16, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 17, 3 p.m. Dec. 18, Edmonds Center for the Arts, Edmonds. Tickets are $30, $25 for seniors and military and $20 for students. Buy them at 425-774-7570 or www.olympicballet.com.

Emerald Ballet Theatre: Four matinee performances with the Rainer Symphony Ballet Orchestra. 2 p.m. Dec. 3, 4 and 10, 11, Northshore Performing Arts Center, 18125 92nd Ave. NE, Bothell; $20 to $35; 425-984-2471; www.npacf.org.

Alderwood Dance Spectrum’s “A Storybook Nutcracker”: A child-friendly version. 9:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., Dec. 8; 7 p.m. Dec. 9; and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Dec. 10; PUD Auditorium, 2320 California St., Everett. Tickets are $5 to $15; 425-771-2994 or www.brownpapertickets.com.

Skagit County

Skagit Valley Academy of Dance: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2 and Dec. 3; 2 p.m. Dec. 4, McIntyre Hall, 2501 E. College Way, Mount Vernon. Tickets are $20 to $35; 866-624-6897; www.mcintyrehall.org.

American Ballet Theater: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 and 2 p.m. Dec. 18, McIntyre Hall, 2501 E. College Way, Mount Vernon. Tickets are $20 to $30; 866-624-6897; www.mcintyrehall.org.

Island County

Whidbey Island Dance Theatre: 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 9 through Dec. 18, S. Whidbey High School performing arts center, 5675 S. Maxwelton Road, Langley. Tickets are $15 to $22 advance, $15 all seats opening night and Dec. 10, otherwise $22 at the door; For tickets and more information call 360-341-2221 or go to www.widtonline.org.