Arts & Culture

Review: Tradition meets animation in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”

Dancers from Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.”
Dancers from Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.” Courtesy

Not much has changed since Tchaikovsky wrote “The Nutcracker” music in 1892. And not much has changed with George Balanchine’s 1954 choreography. But in 2016 at Pacific Northwest Ballet, there’s tradition and innovation: a new animated video with real dancers in a CGI house, joining with last year’s video to give this sparkling production a unique grand jeté between worlds old and new.

The new video comes at a clever time — that plot gap between the Stahlbaums’ Christmas party and the magical midnight hour when Clara’s toys come to life. Unlike the overture video (also created by Seattle’s Straightface Studios), which rushes you “Polar Express”-style through snowy forest and New England village to the Stahlbaums’ magnificent front door, the Act I video gives you a voyeuristic peep into what happens when the party’s over. As guests step delicately into their horse-drawn carriage, you zoom in to see a maid closing curtains at an upstairs window, lights going off, Clara tumbling into bed before awakening again and tiptoeing out of her room. Since the silhouetted figures are real PNB dancers incorporated during the production process, the video transitions seamlessly between stage and CGI worlds, accompanied by the lush violin solo that Balanchine pulled into the ballet from “Sleeping Beauty.” (Michael Jinsoo Lim gives the sweetness a gutsy tango feel.)

Saturday night’s show had some excellent dancing, despite a few cast changes. The shining star was Noelani Pantastico, who imbued the Arabian coffee dance with an Indian flair, phenomenal muscle control and an impressive ability to clink her finger cymbals on beat even while executing complex leaps and belly-dance poses. Dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy in her stead was Leah Merchant, who added such a joyful smile to her otherwise-ordinary dancing that she radiated true fairyish essence. Corps de ballet dancer Dylan Wald gave the Cavalier a stylish grace, and filling in for Wald as Mother Ginger was Miles Pertl, occupying the flowery dress and bonnet with a simpering delight worthy of Les Ballets Trockadero.

Stellar dancing came from Elizabeth Murphy as the Dewdrop Fairy, with a hummingbird swiftness and delicacy to her pirouettes and tendues. And the corps moved as one in the Waltz of the Flowers and Snowflake scene, achieving a stylishly perfect unison rather like a visual Andrews Sisters.

Highlights included the comical Chinese Tea (Price Suddarth, Ashley Baker, Jaya Celeste), the Polichinelles (including one so enthusiastic that she showed twice as much yellow skirt in her leaps) and Owen Thompson as a solemn Nathaniel. Owen Odegard made a hilarious Fritz, as mischievous as a terrier and leading his band of party boys in high spirits. The girls were less visual, and while it’s terrific to see a dancer of color as Clara, Eden Anan needed far more head-and-shoulders acting to make the part believable.

After some initial flute/violin intonation woes, the orchestra played as skillfully as usual throughout, led by Allan Dameron.

For South Sounders, it’s an expensive trek north to see Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Nutcracker.” But for its fantastic blend of 1892 elegance and 2016 technology, it’s the star on the Northwest “Nutcracker” Christmas tree.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti

The Nutcracker

Who: Pacific Northwest Ballet, choreographed by George Balanchine.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday (Dec. 9) and Wednesday-Dec. 16; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, 20-23; 12:30 p.m. Dec. 24; 12:30 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, 26-28.

Where: McCaw Hall, Seattle Center, 321 Mercer St., Seattle.

Tickets: $25-$190 adult; $22-$171 ages 12 and younger. Garage parking $20.

Information: 206-441-2424, pnb.org.

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