So many “Nutcracker” productions, so little time.
“The Nutcracker” isn’t just a holiday staple for folks wanting their annual dose of sugarplum fairies and delicately twirling human snowflakes. It also is the bread-and-butter for ballet companies around the country, providing a sure income that pads out the more inventive offerings throughout the rest of the year.
But how to choose the right “Nutcracker” for you? Five Seattle and Tacoma companies will offer five “Nutcrackers,” each with its own style, personality and twist. Here’s what makes them special:
PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET: SENDAK MAGIC
For those who want all the bells and whistles of a “Nutcracker” performance, Pacific Northwest Ballet is the one to go to. The combination of Kent Stowell’s choreography and the late children’s author Maurice Sendak’s charming set design has been a favorite for nearly 30 years, acclaimed by The New York Times and even made into a film.
More than 200 dancers, enormous sets including a ship cruising through dolphin waters and a miraculously growing Christmas tree, and a magical fairy-tale feel come with the excellent PNB orchestra, extras in the lobby and every Seattle kid dressed to the nines.
Just expect to pay a lot, or else bring your opera glasses to see the fabulous dancing and snowfall from cheaper seats.
Good for: Folks who want a glamorous “Nutcracker” with a nationally renowned company and don’t mind the ticket price (or sitting way up in the nosebleed section).
When: 7:30 tonight and Saturday, plus Dec. 14-15, 18-21; 2 p.m. Saturday, plus Dec. 15, 18-21, and 24; 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, plus Dec. 16, 23, 26-28; 1 p.m. only Dec. 29.
Extras: Opening weekend lobby activities include crafts, dance classes, magicians, ballet characters and carolers all one hour before curtain; 9:30 a.m. Saturday is the “Nutcracker Brunch”; instrument petting zoo is offered Saturday and Sunday, plus Dec. 15 and 16; “Nutcracker Suite” with cupcake decorating, photo booth and more at all matinees ($15).
Where: McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center, 321 Mercer St., Seattle
Tickets: $25-$130 for adults; $22-$118 for 12 and younger
Info: 206-441-2424, pnb.org
TACOMA CITY BALLET: AUTHENTIC RUSSIAN
When Erin Ceragioli won a $75,000 grant 15 years ago to research the original Russian version of “The Nutcracker” for Tacoma City Ballet to recreate, she probably didn’t expect the sets to be the biggest problem.
But for the TCB director, going to Russia and piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of choreography, costumes and staging from original documents in Russian was easy compared with dealing with Tacoma set builders.
The original sets as outlined in Marius Petipa’s libretto of 1882 (the ballet’s first blueprint) were grandiose pieces that included a motorized clock with flapping wings and a tree that grew upward and flew out of the scene. The backdrops were designed for St. Petersburg’s Maryinsky Theatre, the largest in the world. Resizing these for the Pantages Theater took countless hours, Ceragioli said on the ballet’s blog.
The director also had to deal with a defaulting wardrobe mistress and a last-minute sewing marathon.
But in the end, the original Russian version was recreated, from the choreography passed down from an original dancer to Ceragioli’s own teacher, all the way down to the tree decorations. TCB is still producing this gem each year in Tacoma’s beautiful Pantages, and it is danced to a live Tchaikovsky score by the Northwest Sinfonietta. That’s what audiences (and dancers) go back for each year.
“I believe in the integrity of researching this production,” Ceragioli said. “I try to keep it pretty much the same.”
Best for: Traditional ballet lovers who want glamorous sets and theater and live music
When: 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, plus Dec. 15-16, 22-23
Where: Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma
Info: 253-272-4219, tacomacityballet.com
DANCE THEATER NORTHWEST: ‘NUTCRACKER’ FOR LITTLE KIDS
If you have small kids and think paying big bucks to watch them squirm out of their seats during a whole “Nutcracker” is a bad idea, Dance Theatre Northwest’s production might be your answer. Offering a bedtime story version of the ballet, the production showcases local dancers in the traditional favorite scenes: the party, the Christmas tree, the snow scene and Land of Sweets. It’s all set to the Tchaikovsky score, but it abbreviates the ballet for young attention spans.
“We update our show each year to keep it fresh and exciting with some new choreography, costumes and sets,” said director Melanie Kirk-Stauffer. “It’s especially suitable for children and families.”
Staged at Mount Tahoma High School, it also has the advantage of plenty of free parking and a short drive time for those in Tacoma’s south end.
Good for: Families with small kids, anyone close to Tacoma’s South End
When: 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Mount Tahoma High School Theater, 4634 S. 74th St., Tacoma
Info: 253-778-6534, dancetheatrenorthwest.org
TACOMA PERFORMING DANCE COMPANY: NEW CHOREOGRAPHY
If you’d rather pull out fingernails than see the same old “Nutcracker” moves every year, check out the production by Tacoma Performing Dance Company.
New choreography by director Jo Emery, Amity Howell-Slobody and Jean Milano jazzes up the familiar story, tailor-fit to the talent of the company’s up-and-coming dancers, some of whom go on to dance with the likes of American Ballet Theatre.
Among the 125-strong cast are Riley Ranch and Gaby Beardemphl as Dream Clara, Anna Herron as the Sugarplum Fairy, Roy Stevens as the Nutcracker Prince and Lesley Barrett as the Snow Queen. Costume design is by Tracy McGowen and Emilie Stevens, and sets are designed by Patti Graham.
Children from the Jo Emery Ballet School dance as party children, Nutcracker soldiers, Clara’s friends, little harlequins and Mother Ginger’s children.
Best for: Ballet lovers who like new choreography
When: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 15, 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Dec. 16
Where: Stadium High School theater, 111 N. E St., Tacoma
Information: 253-752-8530, tacomperformingdance.org
WASHINGTON COMTEMPORARY BALLET: HONORING THE MILITARY
Washington Contemporary Ballet director Ken Kaiser has three passions: dance, special needs kids and the military. This year’s “Nutcracker” honors all three.
The dance part is obvious – WCB has put on a high-quality production every year for a long time, featuring well-trained students in the solo and corps roles and their parents as adults in the party scene.
For the military part, Kaiser is reserving 300 seats at the first performance for military members and their families, with a special reduced price of $10 per person.
“My son is serving, and it’s really opened my eyes to what they go through,” Kaiser said. “It’s Christmas, a lot of the guys are away, so we’re trying to make it a bit nicer for them.”
The special needs part comes in at the Sunday show. Savannah Vindivich, 9, who has cerebral palsy and is a student in WCB’s special needs ballet classes, will dance in the party scene in her wheelchair. Savannah’s dad will be in the scene, too.
“He was just bringing her to class and hanging around, so I asked him to be in it,” said Kaiser, who often recruits parents to play party adults.
Good for: Military and special needs families, families from Tacoma’s South End
When: 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 15, 2 p.m. Dec. 16
Where: Mount Tahoma High School Theater, 4634 S. 74th St., Tacoma
Tickets: $18/$15/$10 military and families (2 p.m. Dec. 15 only)
Info: 253-474-4312, wcbdance.org
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568