If you go to “The Nutcracker,” you primarily go to see the dancing — after all, despite the beloved Tchaikovsky music and holiday storyline, it is a ballet. But America’s most popular ballet — the Los Angeles Times counted some 750 total productions in 2011 — is also a winner because of the visuals.
Elaborate sets, fantastical backdrops, intricate costumes and clever props help tell the magic tale of Clara and her magical nutcracker doll, and the Puget Sound area is no exception.
Pacific Northwest Ballet hired 35 people last year to make sets and costumes for its new George Balanchine production. Tacoma City Ballet spends more than 250 hours cleaning, repairing and refitting costumes. Ballet Northwest makes a dozen new ones every year.
So, which one will you go to see? Here’s our annual round-up of area “Nutcrackers” to help you decide.
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Pacific Northwest Ballet
When Pacific Northwest Ballet designed a brand-new production last year for Balanchine’s 1954 “Nutcracker” choreography, they didn’t do it by halves. The pastel Maurice Sendak scenery became the candy-colored brightness of illustrator Ian Falconer (“Olivia the Pig”), with outsized, child’s-eye scale. It took 35 people to make the 22 painted drops with 3,000 square yards of fabric scenery. There are nine layers on each snow skirt; 760 petals on each flower costume; 300 jewels on the Arabian peacock headpieces; 98 yards of fur on 17 mice; 450 lights on a 40-foot Christmas tree and 30 cubic feet of fake snow falling in the snow scene.
This year, the overture’s animated video, sweeping through snowflakes, over forests and into a New England village, gets a companion. A second video plays during the violin solo after the party scene, with live ballet dancers inside a CGI world.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (Dec. 2), 8-9, 14-16; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, 17, 20-23; 12:30 p.m. Dec. 24; 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, 18, 26-28.
Where: McCaw Hall, Seattle Center, 321 Mercer St., Seattle.
Also: Instrument petting zoo at matinees Saturday, Sunday, Dec. 10, 17-1 and evening shows Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets: $25-$190 adult; $22-$171 ages 12 and younger.
Information: 206-441-2424, pnb.org.
Washington Contemporary Ballet
With choreography by Washington Contemporary Ballet founder Kay Englert, the ballet’s “Nutcracker” was first performed in 1998 at Pacific Lutheran University. Though a few new costumes are made each year, many sets and costumes are the same.
“They almost feel like part of the family,” says director Nathan Cook, who danced his way through the ballet year after year as a child, along with his siblings and parents. “Dancers may find themselves in a costume that another dancer that they looked up to may have worn.”
As with many “Nutcrackers,” the most complicated prop is the Christmas tree, which is hung with real ornaments during the party scene, grows on cue with the music and is finally “flown” out of the audience’s view.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Stadium High School theater, 111 N. E St., Tacoma.
Information: 253-302-4172, wcbdance.org.
Tacoma City Ballet
This year is the last time after 33 years that you can see Tacoma City Ballet’s “Nutcracker” in the Pantages Theater. Beginning next year, it will be at the new Federal Way Performing Arts Center. But if that isn’t reason enough to go, try this: backdrops hand-painted in 1919, with trompe l’oeil to make the already-big Pantages stage look like a vast hall of pillars, drapes and arches, all in a vintage pinky-gold. With choreography by director Erin Ceragioli that, like the sets, is based on the Russian original. This “Nutcracker” has a 2013 prequel explaining why Clara’s doll turns into a handsome Prince. Five separate backdrops complement tricky set pieces like the bed that whirls around to become a (humane) mousetrap.
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 and 16; 3 p.m. Dec. 10-11 and 17-18.
Where: Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma.
Dance Theater Northwest
This “Nutcracker,” with choreography by director Melanie Kirk-Stauffer, saw completely reconstructed sets in 2006 for Mount Tahoma High School’s new auditorium, and they’ve been updated every year. The four scenes are all hand-painted, and the snow scene has a Pacific Northwest feel, says Kirk-Stauffer, based on local forest photographs.
Individual costume refitting and remaking starts in July, as the company does many community preview shows during October and November. Kirk-Stauffer does a lot of the sewing.
Also handmade, and very popular with the tiniest dancers, are each of the girls’ dolls in the party scene, 18 inches high with embroidered faces.
When: 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 17, 4 p.m. Dec. 18.
Where: Mount Tahoma High School auditorium, 4634 S. 74th St., Tacoma.
Tickets: $22-$26 adults; $11-$13 children, seniors.
Information: 253-778-6534, dtnw.org.