Northwest Ballet company dancers and PNB School students in the finale of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker Photo Elise Bakketun

Northwest Ballet company dancers and PNB School students in the finale of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
Photo Elise Bakketun

mMcCaw Hall, Seattle, WA
November 28, 2015 (evening)

Dean Speer

One of the greatly anticipated events of the 2015-6 ballet season in Seattle was the unveiling of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s new production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker; new to the company both in the sense of choreography and concept and also that of the critical and vital elements of sets, costumes, and scenery.

Ian Falconer’s designs meet all expectations…and then some. They are bright, colorful, with dashes of humor and whimsy. I liked that Mr. Balanchine himself “appears” not once but thrice – as a bust as part of three different scenic drops, with his head turned to the right and seeming to look down his nose at something. So similar to some photos and films of him – and true from seeing him in person once coming in to observe a School of American Ballet men’s class. Was it me, or did he get bigger and more prominent each time? Who could not enjoy the reference to and use of Falconer’s original Olivia the Pig as a box onlooker, clearly enjoying the ballet, much to the chagrin of his matronly box-mate, peering down at piglet through her lorgnette.

Probably the best piece of choreographic invention and development are the brilliant Mirlitons (Marizpan Shepherdesses, led by soloist Margaret Mullin); closely followed by the Waltz of the Flowers, in which Chelsea Adomaitis was a dazzling Dew Drop who just floated – tremendous elevation, ballon, and controlled technique;  and the Grand Pas de Deux. Mullin’s ease of technique in the demands of her group’s pointe work, was nothing less than delightful and impressive, with its unusual pas de bourées, deft changes of weight, smooth turning hops on pointe with développés at the same time, and pirouettes to the knee, all whilst faking playing tunes on Pan Pipes.

Of the dancing in Act I, memorable and notable were the Harlequin pair of Amanda Clark and Leta Biasucci. Both were charming and who showed their considerable technique – including Biasucci’s pointe work – to good effect, as did Benjamin Griffiths as the Toy Soldier, beating his entrechats with great clarity, height and, as a virtuoso move, with flexed feet. The Snowflakes ensemble was excellent.

Sarah Ricard Orza was very clear and strong in the Arabian Coffee, in the version made for the powerhouse, Gloria Govrin. Matthew Renko’s hooping Candy Cane (to the Russian dance music) brought fierce and happy applause. Price Suddarth’s split jumps to second position in the air also brought much applause, for the feat itself and its faux-Chinese influenced charm, with PNB School Professional Division students, Kelsey Minzenmayer and Camille Reaux.

How lucky PNB are to have Noelani Pantastico back in the fold, making her company re-debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy. What an excellent artist. She looked terrific and happy in this part. James Moore was her strong Cavalier, giving us double cabrioles in his coda solo.

If I had to make any fuss, it would be musical – perhaps, as he said, Mr. Balanchine needed an entre’acte between the Party and Battle scenes of Act I in 1954, but I don’t think so today. If I could reach up to ballet heaven and present my case today to him, I would. The long violin solo adds nothing, doesn’t move the dramatic action forward, and there is no dancing to it.

The statistics of this new production are very impressive, fun, and a bit mind-boggling. It’s a ballet that is exciting, fun, lively, filled with good humor, good dancing, and joy – and for our Clara (Eden Anan) and Drosselmeier’s Nephew (Joh Morrill), a very happy ending as they go soaring off, their airborne sleigh pulled by prancing, pawing, magical reindeer.

PNB has done it again – a holiday treat that audiences will enjoy for years to come.

PNB’s The Nutcracker runs through December 13. For details and booking, click here.