If you’ve never seen Pacific Northwest Ballet’s lavishly imaginative production of “The Nutcracker” by choreographer Kent Stowell and author/illustrator Maurice Sendak, you only have one more month to do it.
Of course, ballet may not be your thing, let alone “The Nutcracker.” But the PNB’s 32-year-old production is nationally known for good reason: the vintage-pastel sets and costumes, the imaginative detail, the adorable goofiness of everything from the dancing tiger to the giant kicking clock. And when the curtain falls on the final show Dec. 28, it will all get packed away, as the company prepares a new production for next year.
But if you’ve seen this show — and many do, year after year — it’s still worth seeing again. This year’s version doesn’t change the basics, but the lead roles are danced with convincing emotion, including a refreshingly honest young Clara and a naively joyful adult one.
After a delightful overture (the PNB orchestra, led by Emil de Cou, plays the Tchaikovsky score with a light, dancing touch), the opening prologue with children and a mysterious Herr Drosselmeier (Uko Gorter, with his usual sharp-edged flair) telling the basic girl-Nutcracker-Mouse story is as stiff as always.
But then the real Clara wakes up, and here begins a lovely hour of watching young Genevieve Knight turn this often-formulaic role into a real girl with honest, fresh emotions and reactions. A good but not brilliant dancer (yet), Knight is still compelling because she inhabits the traditional ballet gestures of crying, pleading and surprise with a realistic touch and lovely body acting, flowing through the party scene of elegant adults, annoying little boys, and the meddling Drosselmeier with grace and enthusiasm.
Not all the dancing is wonderful — Drosselmeier’s Sword-dancing Doll (Kyle Davis) needs more leaping height and pizzazz — but the battle between the Nutcracker (Price Suddarth) and the mouse army is as hilarious as always, with Stowell’s mice boasting and prancing like clumsy villagers and the giant mouse set-piece working its oversize fairytale magic.
Then, as Clara grows up in her dream, principal Lesley Rausch takes over where Knight has left off. The adult Clara may be long-limbed, with beautiful extensions and sure pointe work, but she’s still as fragile and innocently joyful, with emotional arms and grateful embraces. Jerome Tisserand, as her Prince, is rather dull, but then Stowell did take away most of the traditional choreography of this part, leaving the Prince as arm candy.
The rest of the ballet moves smoothly and surely. De Cou takes his tempo a little slower than last year, allowing the Snowflakes and Flowers to execute their complex steps with more grace and less fury, while Carrie Imler as their Queen impresses with perfect pirouettes and balance. The three Dervishes need more verve in the Russian Dance, but the Chinese Tiger (Levi Teachout) is as cutely klutzy as ever and Lindsi Dec brings a fierce pride to the Peacock that goes beyond mere contortionism. Benjamin Griffiths, in the Commedia trio, gives Pierrot a sassiness that ends in an aerial cartwheel. Delightful.
Yes, maybe after 32 years it’s time for PNB to change out their “Nutcracker.” But there’s still a lot to celebrate about this one — while you can.