Nutcracker. Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand in the Kent Stowel-Maurice Sendak 'Nutcracker'.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Nutcracker. Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand in the Kent Stowel/Maurice Sendak ‘Nutcracker’.
Photo © Angela Sterling

McCaw Hall, Seattle, WA; November 28, 2014

Dean Speer

In this its 32nd year it seems hard not only to say good-bye to the Kent Stowell/Maurice Sendak production of the “Nutcracker” but also to realize that so much time has flown by so quickly. I recall many things about its premiere, not least the great Deborah Hadley, for whom much of the part of Clara was conceived and developed, commenting in a TV interview how nice it was to have a “Nutcracker” part that “was not vacuous.” I also recall watching it for the first time and being so amazed and impressed by the very high production values, thinking somewhat blithely that we hardly needed any choreography at all as it was enough of a show just watching the sets whizzing in and out and, in and case of the opening of Act II, sailing by.

Both acts are filled with detail and humor and I’m still making new discoveries. This year it was one of the creatures from Sendak’s book, “Where the Wild Things Are”, peeking out at us at from the background at the conclusion of the across-the-seas adventure, which is re-printed in the playbill at the top of the Director’s Notebook page in the theatre program. There are also the fat mice reposing in the proscenium and the very fat pink Cupid mouse readying his bow and arrow, nearly falling out of the Stahlbaum’s parlor chandelier. Very droll.

There are, of course, the glorious costumes. The general public may not realize that each was made by hand by the PNB Costume Shop and has been lovingly maintained, refurbished, and in some cases, redone or completely remade as time and wear and tear have exacted their toll. This refurbishment includes some of the set pieces and properties. The only change that I can personally recall is the original Doll’s costume being different. I think the story is that they did a re-design on the adult Clara’s tutu for Act II (think Sugar Plum Fairy) and when this was done, the Doll inherited the old pink tutu – and it is still done this way today.

Stowell’s choreography fills each scene – the party is bustling and not dull; his Snowflake corps swirl and build and build to the falling of the Act I curtain; and Act II’s Waltz of the Flowers has the perfume of rose which it seems to represent. It moves well, pun intended – many of us have suffered through other versions where the seven or eight minutes it takes to perform this number seem interminable, but not here. I like how it pulses and breathes, with interesting patterns and corps de ballet shapes. We were blessed on Open Night with the ever amazing and wonderful Carrie Imler who thrilled us with her virtuoso technique radiating her calm and clear presence. Fast, very speedy whipping pirouettes and clean beats were a joy.

Stowell made one significant change that I recall and that was the addition early in the run of the ‘mounted’ horse cavalry that come charging in for the battle scene. This was an element leftover from their first “Nutcracker” production and he was happy to have it included as there is something delightful and visually humorous in it.

We were also treated to Lesley Rausch as the adult Clara and the très élégant Jerôme Tisserand as her cavalier Prince – who in this version does get a solo in Act II (in the upcoming replacement version, this is not the case, and I’m not counting the coda of the pas de deux). Uko Gorter as the quirky and slightly mean (he likes to play practical jokes on young Clara that he thinks are funny but which she finds scary; waving a stuffed rat toy in her face, for example) Drosselmeier made the most out this central-to-the-plot and colorful character.

Act II, as in most versions, contains most of the straight forward dancing and in this version we’ve come to expect a Peacock (a male bird played by a female en pointe – irony, anyone?); this luscious part made lovely by an extreme degree of control, and amplitude of extension, shown by Lindsi Dec. Charming and humorous always is the fun of the Chinese Tiger and his four attendants, and the Italianate Commedia with Amanda Clark, Benjamin Griffiths, and Margaret Mullin, a fast-paced and virtuosic trio.

Whirling Dervishes dance to the Russian trepak music and this year’s triumvirate of Eric Hipolito, Jr., Price Suddarth, and Ezra Thomson was very strong and robust.

Kyle Davis’s Sword-Dancer Doll of Act I impressed with his double tours en l’air that finished with splits in second position – a feat which he did twice. Past men have done the double tours but not with this exciting and amazing trick.

One unique insertion that no other “Nutcracker” production does is an Act I party scene Masque, set to Mozart which continues the plot thread of young Clara’s nightmare of being bitten by a rat and suddenly turning into an old lady, sung by Maria Mannisto and Sarah Mattox – who also double as the angelic boys choir for the conclusion of the snow scene. Some productions use an actual boys choir or even mixed choirs (I know of one that draws from its community’s multiple choirs/choruses and alternates them). This is smart as it makes good use of the singers and saves the production the trouble and expense of finding and stocking nearly 40 performances with choir that’s only on for a few minutes.

Emil de Cou led the mighty PNB Orchestra as they accompanied this more than mighty production. It’s something that has brought Seattle and PNB world attention and will be missed.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Nutcracker” continues to December 28. Click here for details.