As it winds down, PNB’s ‘Nutcracker’ finds new fans to delight

  • By Aaron Swaney Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, December 3, 2014 7:25pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

“Will there be pretty ladies in pink dresses there?” came the question from the back seat. “Will there be food there?”

These were the pertinent questions for my 4-year-old daughter Grace as we headed to the famous Stowell and Sendak “Nutcracker” on opening weekend. At the encouragement of a co-worker, I decided to take her to a showing of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s world-renowned “Nutcracker” before it’s mothballed following this winter’s run. So the answer to the first question was an emphatic yes. The second question was harder.

“Well, they don’t allow food in the show, but we’ll make sure you get a snack before,” I said. For Grace, this was a fair compromise — as long as there would be ladies in pink dresses at some point.

In 1981, Kent Stowell, the founding artistic director of PNB, flew to New York to talk to acclaimed children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak about helping design a new and exciting Nutcracker. Sendak, who 20 years earlier had written the iconic children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are,” agreed and set about creating a unique world for Clara, her prince, Herr Drosselmeier and, of course, the Mouse King.

For more than 30 years that “Nutcracker,” performed by PNB, has been entertaining audiences each year and introducing many to the beloved story by E.T.A. Hoffman and score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

It became a Seattle institution.

So it came as a bit of a shock when PNB announced last month that this would be the final year of the Stowell and Sendak “Nutcracker.”

Next year PNB unveils a new production: George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” with sets and costumes by a different children’s author/illustrator: Ian Falconer — he of Olivia (the pig) fame.

For now, though, audiences still have until Dec. 28 to either discover or relive the amazing ballet that has called Seattle home for 31 years. That was a big reason I wanted to take Grace and another person who would be seeing it for the first time: my mother, Betty.

It was an amazing night, made complete by a backstage tour at intermission. Both my mom and daughter were transfixed by the creative sets, the beautiful costumes, the effortless dancing. The PNB Orchestra, playing Tchaikovsky, was flawless.

The Stowell and Sendak “Nutcracker” adheres closely to the original story and mixes it with the unique world of Sendak, with colorful, whimsical and larger-than-life sets, costumes and characters. The world of characters include a beautiful strutting peacock, a Chinese tiger and plenty of mice. Grace — with a full belly from her pre-show snack — loved the mice and even got a look inside one of the masks the dancers wear during the show. (The trick is the entire masks are see-through; the eyes are decorative.)

My mother was transfixed by the dancers and glad she could see the “Nutcracker” before it was packed up for the last time. Grace had a little trouble staying tuned in for the entire show, fading in the latter parts of each of the two acts. But when she was dialed in, she was in wonder, especially at the twirling ladies in pink — and even not-so-pink — tutus.

The Stowell and Sendak Nutcracker has a heart for children — the gigantic Christmas tree, the large animated Mouse King, the ship and churning waves — which makes it easier to take kids. Grace got scared only once when the cannons fired twice during the battle scene at the end of Act 1. Though when I asked her after the show she said the battle was her favorite part, likely reminding her of the battles she wages with her two brothers.

To prepare Grace for the ballet, my wife and I borrowed the Sendak-illustrated version of Hoffman’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” from my mother-in-law. The book helped familiarize her with the characters — the cartoonish Chinese tiger was her favorite — and give her a sneak preview of the show. I’d recommend it to anyone taking a young one to the show.

After the curtain goes down on the final show, the Stowell and Sendak “Nutcracker” sets and costumes will likely be put into storage. There’s a small chance they’ll be rented out to another ballet company to entertain another part of the country, but it won’t be in Seattle — at least for the foreseeable future.

I feel fortunate my daughter and mom got one last look.

If you go

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Stowell and Sendak “Nutcracker” is at Seattle Center’s McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St., Seattle) through Dec. 28. Tickets can be purchased through the PNB box office at 206-441-2424 or online at There’s also a limited selection of tickets available through Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000 or online at Tickets range from $35 to $156, depending on performance date and time. For a full schedule of performances, go to

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