Pacific Northwest Ballet
November 26, 2021
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’
Bright holiday cheer filled McCaw Hall, both on stage and off, for PNB’s return to its mostly annual in-person and on stage showing of George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’. Having been on hiatus in 2020 (and you know why), it was truly a joy to experience it again live and in real time, as opposed to pre-recorded and streamed over social media.
I was really focused and primed for it — I get into the mode and acclimate for a good couple of hours prior to curtain so I’m completely ready to be 100 percent present. From the opening of the first strains of the overture to the concluding chords of Act II, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. With the colorful and playfully garish scenery and costumes by designer/illustrator Ian Falconer and introduced by a film — very smart to lead us to the home of the Christmas party hosts, the Stahlbaums, we know we’re in for a happy ride. This film (by Straightface Studios of Seattle) is very detailed and I find myself seeing new things each time — this round was the docked river boat.
Angelica Generosa, as the Sugar Plum, and Price Suddarth, as her Cavalier were well-matched, both in terms of size of technique (outstanding) and expression. The other big assignment, in terms of sheer technical challenges are Dewdrop (Cecilia Iliesiu) during the Waltz of the Flowers, and the sharp, precise pointe and footwork of the Marzipans, led by Madison Rayn Abeo. These dances are also some of the best examples of the genius of Balanchine’s inventive and visually-rich choreography. When he’s at his best, his ballets seem at once both simple and complex — and they are.
Iliesiu mastered the double saute rond de jambe en l’air and the multiple double gargouillade small jumps. And Balanchine’s interpolation of complex fouettees — combined with pas de bourrees, pirouettes, and change of direction were no trouble for her. I, for one, wait all evening, greedily, for Dewdrop, and my appetite was sated.
Generosa’s early Act II “celesta” solo was filled with joy and fun — and she was riding on top of the challenging choreography, seeming to enjoy herself. One of my fusses to Balanchine is the absence of the male solo (the music is in the form of a lively tarantella), but rather only getting Suddarth’s opportunity to showcase his ability in the coda of the pas de deux, with cabrioles and turns. (My other major fuss is that I do not like the running around of the bed in Act 1 — I get its story line function but what a waste of some of the most glorious music — in many productions showcased as the Snow pas de deux. Since Mr. B. isn’t around any longer to adopt any changes, I suffer through it.)
His next, best dance is Act II’s Waltz of the Flowers. Lots of swirling and intricate patterns and, toward the end, what can only be described as a nod to his musical theatre days, the whipping of the whole corps and then their breaking off into halves. It all happens very quickly, and you have to be aware it’s there, but what great joy and fun.
While beautifully performed by Amanda Morgan, I find the Coffee solo dance a bit on the boring side — disappointing that the choreography doesn’t ask for the deployment of the dancer’s extension much (only one time, really) or for much overt use of their (considerable) technique. What we do get is, what seems like, a lot of prancing in parallel passe. This version was made on someone I know, who has/had enormous technique, so I remain a bit mystified by the end product, as to why Mr. B would do this. The PNB dancers make the most of it, nevertheless, for which we can all be grateful.
I would be remiss not to mention the amazing Kuu Sakuragi as the lead in Candy Canes (aka, Russian) dance. From the start, he commanded the stage with great authority and panache. His jumps through the double turns of the hoop brought cheers from the appreciative audience.
Some cast members, as well as the Party Scene children were masked, wisely, with ones made especially for them and the production by PNB’s amazing and creative Costume Shop. We were told, too, that on stage numbers were reduced, and if this was the case, I didn’t really notice, as it did not impact the overall sense of the production values.
It was great hearing live music — the mighty PNB Orchestra led by Conductor Emil de Cou.
Production continues through the end of the month — go to PNB.ORG