Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker, part 2. Run to see it!

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Yes, the peacock was sublime!

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Yes, the harlequins were a delight!

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But, let’s looks at some other aspects of the extravaganza.

For example, the warring factions, on the part of the Nutcracker and the Mice, were picturesque beyond belief.

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I can’t locate a good photograph of the cavalry component of this Nutcracker online, but I did find this illustration.

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You’ll have to take my word for it: the cavalry rocked!  I’ve never seen anything like their spectacular horse costumes.

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The ethereal dance sequence with the corps de ballet dancing in a lightly falling snow was awesome.

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Can you see what I mean?  It snows rarely in Seattle, so this aspect of the ballet is beloved locally.  By me for sure!

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I’ve run out of superlatives to describe the Nutcracker, so I just show you some random photos of some great parts. A picture is worth a thousand words anyway.

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And yes, I had to sneak in the peacock again.  I can’t help it.  I love it so much!

So, to close, let me remind you that this is the very last year to see the Stowell-Sendak version of The Nutcracker in Seattle. So, what are you waiting for, people?  Go!

Let’s talk turkey! Pacific Northwest Ballet shines in Nutcracker!

First, I admit it.  I love the ballet.

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Second, I love a classic as much as the next person.  Maybe more.

Tchaikovsky-The Nutcracker Ballet

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Third, I love a new twist on an old favorite.  Shaking things up is almost always a good thing.  Especially in the arts!

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Fourth, I love rousing live music from a top notch orchestra.

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Fifth, I am a sucker for the holiday season and the spectacle of falling snow.

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Put all these things together, and they elicit the Pacific Northwest
Ballet Company's Nutcracker, what else? Ma oui, mesdames et messieurs!
(I have no idea why I just went all les français. 
It just seemed appropriate!)

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The Pacific Northwest’s is an entirely different Nutcracker than any you’ve ever seen.

And that’s because one of the company’s directors, Kent Stowell, had a brainstorm back in the 1980s.  He thought a new, updated version of the Christmas classic would be nice.

As I noted in an earlier post, Kent Stowell invited famed children’s book author and illustrator, Maurice Sendak, to collaborate on a new version of the Nutcracker.  Fortunately, although his initial impulse was to say no, Sendak agreed.  The ballet that I enjoyed yesterday in Seattle is the carefully nurtured product of that enlightened collaboration.

Thanks to technology and the www, we can hear the late Sendak himself and see him at work.

Thank goodness they did it, for I’ve been to a few Nutcrackers (indeed I have been drug to many to watch friend’s children perform as mice and other nonsense) in my lifetime, but never one as charming as this.

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I could give you the whole rundown, but you don’t need that and neither do I.  So let’s jump right to my favorite parts of the Seattle spectacle.

First, let’s skip the turkey and talk all peacock.  Personally, I never have liked turkey.

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The illustration above is courtesy of the PNB’s website.  No credit is given for the artist, but I guess we can take credit all the way back to the early 1980s and give it to Maurice Sendak, who originally envisioned all of this bravado on display at McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center for the next month.

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There are hundreds of things to love about the Stowell-Sendak Nutcracker.  Maybe more.

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But, personally, I could not get enough of this joyous peacock who arrives on stage in her own gilded cage.

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Then the gorgeous bird struts her stuff and it is a joy to behold.

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The choreography, the costume, the music, the beautiful, skilled ballerina–it all comes together in this all too brief moment of peacock madness.

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If you ever wondered what it is like to dance the part of the gorgeous peacock in the Sendak Nutcracker, and come on, who hasn’t?, then watch this:

But, as I often do, I have gotten way, way ahead of myself.

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This light-hearted, magical stage front awaits you upon your arrival in the theater. While the orchestra tunes up and all the little sugarplums and sourpusses in the audience take their bumper chairs, your eyes and mind have much to enjoy in admiring this warm Sendak illustration. It literally sets the stage for the magical moments ahead of you.  The stagefront makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, like you are sitting on your grandmother’s knee and she is about to read you one of your favorite stories with fantastically attractive illustrations for you to admire.

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The curtain(s) rises and you are confronted by this whimsical nutcracker’s face and unending teeth.

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Another curtain rises and we see the young protagonist of the story, our fraulein, asleep, about to have some wild REM sleep!  Out come the mice, the tale’s “narrator” (he is silent, but he still narrates), and the fantastic dreaming begins.

It would take pages for me to go through the chronology and details of the ballet, and I don’t want to write for pages. So, here are some of the scenes from the dream sequence.  I present them out of order, the way I would like to dream it.

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Three dances in harlequin costumes present a lively interlude.  I loved this part!

I’ll be back with another post on this masterpiece soon.  But for now, run, don’t walk, to the Seattle Center to see this ephemeral delight while you still can.

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May we all have visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads this next month!

Soon now…very, very soon!

It is almost time for the holiday season to begin! And, in Seattle, that means only one thing!  The Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Stowell-Sendak version of the classic Nutcracker ballet.

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The PNB’s Nutcracker is a very special work, a collaboration between famed children’s book author and illustrator, Maurice Sendak, and PNB Founding Artistic Director and choreographer, Kent Stowell and drawing from the classic story by E.T.A. Hoffmann and music by Tchaikovsky.

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The Sendak and Stowell Nutcracker production premiered at the Seattle Center Opera House on December 13, 1983.

It was an instantaeous mega hit both in Seattle and nationally.  Newsweek Magazine extolled: “Forget the Space Needle, forget the Ring Cycle, forget Mt. Rainier—this Nutcracker alone is worth a trip to Seattle.”

“Pacific Northwest Ballet broke all box office records in its nine-year history of performances with an incredible 99% capacity audience for the new Nutcracker. Twenty-six performances were presented December 13–31 to 78,000 people; approximately 16% of Seattle’s population!”  PNB press release following 1983 Nutcracker premiere.

Maurice Sendak (l) and Kent Stowell (r) with Company dancers (l-r) Christopher Stowell, Patricia Barker, Alaina Albertson (Clara), Wade Walthall, and Hugh Bigney (Drosselmeier) during Nutcracker‘s world premiere curtain call, 1983. © David Cooper

As most people know, the Nutcracker ballet is based upon a story written in 1816 by E. T. A. Hoffmann, entitled “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” The tale reveals that young Marie Stahlbaum’s favorite Christmas toy, a nutcracker, comes to life, defeats the evil Mouse King, and whisks the Fraulein away to a magical kingdom.  In 1892, Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky collaborated with choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov to turn Alexandre Dumas pere’s adaptation of the story into the ballet we all know and love.  Over time, the Nutcracker became one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous compositions and arguably the most popular ballet world wide.

So, how did Seattle’s Stowell and famed illustrator Maurice Sendak decide to update the old ballet?  It is a very interesting story, told here by the principals:

Maurice Sendak in 1984 said of his collaboration on the ballet: “My immediate reaction to the request that I design Nutcracker was negative. I was flattered, but my reasons for saying no were plentiful. To begin with, who in the world needed another Nutcracker? ….Of course I did it.  Most of my doubts and worries were put to rest when Kent Stowell and I met for the first time early in 1981 in New York City. I liked him immediately for not wanting me to do Nutcracker for all the obvious reasons but rather because he wished me to join him in a leap into the unknown. He suggested we abandon the predictable Nutcracker and find a fresh version that did honor to Hoffman, Tchaikovsky, and ourselves. Later that year, Kent invited me to Seattle to see the company’s old Nutcracker. By then I had fallen in love with the project and after that Christmas of 1981, I set to work in earnest.”

(l-r) Maurice Sendak & Kent Stowell
during Nutcracker dress rehearsal,
1983. © David Cooper
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Kent Stowell discussed the collaborative work in 1983, “Maurice and I went back to the original Nutcracker story by E.T.A. Hoffman and incorporated much more of the story into the production.”

Stowell and Sendak delved deeply into the original story of Hoffman’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” infusing their new ballet with a drama and strength that fully complements Tchaikovsky’s rich score, while creating a kaleidoscope of roles for all levels of the Company and School.

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Stowell continued: “Clara and Herr Drosselmeier are the central figures though the story essentially remains the same. The essence of the Nutcracker story is really a fantasy dreamed by Clara, a young girl on the verge of growing up. The ballet is seen unfolding through her eyes, in an atmosphere tinged with mystery, where there are no boundaries between dream and reality. We worked on this new production for two years; seeing our plans become a reality for our company is an incredible accomplishment—one we feel will be well worth it for all our Nutcracker fans.”

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In 1984, the year following the premier of the brilliant Stowell-Sendak Nutcracker in Seattle, a new edition of the original E.T.A. Hoffman story, illustrated by Sendak, was published and hit the New York Times Bestseller List. It remained there for eight weeks.

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In 1986, a feature-length film of the Stowell-Sendak Nutcracker was produced, premiered in Seattle, and was released nationwide.

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The important thing to remember about this ballet, however, is that this is the last year it will be performed.

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Catch it if you can!  It is so worth the trouble!

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See here for information on PNB Nutcracker.

As I said: Pacific Northwest Ballet rocks!

Check out this review from Critical Dance:

http://www.criticaldance.org/2014/11/11/pacific-northwest-ballet-directors-choice/?utm_source=Pacific+Northwest+Ballet&utm_campaign=bcb43e7891-14-15Rep2Reviews&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_4f2d9028e9-bcb43e7891-292850565

A Million Kisses and More

A Million Kisses to my Skin, Before After, Rassemblement, Debonair McCaw Hall, Seattle, WA; November 8, 2014

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I was reflecting on Artistic Director Peter Boal’s Director’s Notebook piece in the program where he turns on its head the concept of out-of-town tryouts (the typical New Haven to New York route) by suggesting how appropriate it is now to try out a new ballet in New York and have it actually premiere elsewhere, as was the case with Peck’s new work. I believe we’ve come a long way since the days of artistic ratification and the blessing by hands by New Yorkers, telling us what’s good and what’s not – and leaving us looking to them for these crumbs from the master’s table – there being the unwritten belief that they are somehow intrinsically more sophisticated, or that what comes out of New York is somehow better.

These urban myths are shattered when experiencing pieces like Peck’s or Dawson’s, or for that matter the middle two works of the program: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Before After” and “Rassemblement” by Nacho Duato.

Perhaps it’s hometown pride, but many of us have long felt that New York is no longer the dance center of the universe. We should be supporting and aware that Pacific Northwest Ballet has, for many years, been one of the best ballet companies globally.

While in many ways an ensemble piece, Lesley Rausch was clearly the star of “Kisses”, followed closely by Lindsi Dec and Carrie Imler. The choreography calls for extraordinarily strong technique, attack, and control and they carried out the assignment with aplomb. Ditto Sarah Ricard Orza, Emma Love Suddarth, and Margaret Mullin. Then there were the men – Batkhurel Bold, William Lin-Yee, and Jonathan Porretta – who easily showed the high standard that’s become the expectation of male ballet dancing, each getting their own brief solo to show off and who also complemented their partner’s strengths. Men, as we know, not only dance but partner and have to be in sync with their ballerina – and all have to dance as an ensemble – almost literally breathing as one.

My only fuss is the actual title of the piece. A really, really good work, this is not reflected in its title – while perhaps meaningful to the choreographer, I think it could be more poetic and better. When I first heard the title, it suggested to me a modern dance mood work and not a quick, bright, allegro showcase work to Bach.

In a darker mood is Ochoa’s “Before After” which, through exploring the technique of partnering, looks at the sad conclusion of a relationship. It was vividly danced with great depth and fluidity of resonating shapes by Angelica Generosa and Raphaël Bouchard.

“Rassemblement” is Duato’s Haitian voodoo piece with a small story line, suggesting soldiers that ‘disappear’ local men, leaving bereft and grieving females. While an ensemble piece, its star was clearly Carrie Imler, whose deep second position strides and torment unearthed and underscored this story.

Greatly anticipating Justin Peck’s new ballet (his oeuvre entirely new to me), we were not disappointed but rather pleased – he seems to be living up to the hype on social media and elsewhere. His “Debonair” has a sweep to it that is one part intellect and one part feeling and mood. He had come into the creative process with a plan but smartly allowed his interactions with the dancers inform and redirect the product. With the dancers dressed in brushed-nickel toned costumes, I found the production values rather more bleak than Autumnal and would have liked some kind of backdrop and/or color changes to the grim black back and wing curtains and legs. The work is not at all dark, although it is serious. Suggesting perhaps a ballerina’s career journey – the central pas de deux was made for the retiring principal dancer Carla Körbes, though danced in this performance by Lindsi Dec – a dozen dancers appear at what I presume to be a ball. Dec was attentively partnered by Lin-Yee.

Three corps men – Kyle Davis, Ryan Cardea, and Matthew Renko – got to show their stuff, beginning with a held relevé in effacé devant that was both elegant and impressive. Unusually, the work concludes with the duet couple upstage with the curtain ringing down.

Warming us up prior to “Debonair” the mighty PNB Orchestra, which is celebrating their 25th year, played the wonderful “Praeludium” from Grieg’s “Holberg Suite, Op. 40.”