By Tracy Wang

Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) opens its third year of George Balanchine’s ‘the Nutcracker’ on Nov. 24th. Running at McCaw Hall till Dec. 28th, this version of ‘the Nutcracker’ has surely become the new Christmas tradition of the Pacific Northwest region, and has created a magical experience for anyone who walks through the door of McCaw Hall. The festive decoration, interactive photo booths in the entrance hall as well as the giant Christmas tree and Chihuly star on stage delight adults and kids alike.

‘The Nutcracker’ can be said to be a ballet for all ages, and it has been a Christmas tradition in North America for many decades. Since 1983, PNB had been performing founding artistic director Kent Stowell’s production of ‘the Nutcracker’, but in 2015, current artistic director Peter Boal brought Balanchine’s ‘the Nutcracker’ with new costume and scenery by the celebrated author Ian Falconer into the repertoire. The new-to-Seattle version has thus continue to bring in new audiences to the art form of ballet.

The evening performance on Nov. 25th again begins with the Straightface Studios’ video that sets us all in a New England forest with snow rushing toward us and a carriage coming swiftly up the household of the Stahlbaums. As the mice open up the door along with Tchaikovsky’s cheerful overture and audiences’ laughter, we are immediately drawn into a joyful atmosphere in which Clara (Kendra Ko) and her little brother Fritz (Preston Bingham) await to see the Christmas decorations in their living room. With the living room finally revealed, our eyes immediately glue to the intricate details of the furniture, the ornaments and the beautifully-colored dresses of Clara (red and white stripes) and her visiting friends.

Balanchine’s version has the first act almost entirely dedicated to the telling of the Christmas party, and thus we have the little Clara as the main character. Ko acts a sweet enough Clara who can benefit with a tad bit more liveliness, but her little conflicts with Fritz are definitely played out wonderfully with Bingham always ready to tease his big sister. Since Balanchine found giving his students opportunities to perform a crucial part of ballet training, ‘the Nutcracker’ has about 140 PNB students, from beginning levels to those in the professional divisions, and it is clear how PNB has many future stars. Among them, Enrique Feu takes up the role of Nathaniel / the Nutcracker elegantly, and captures our full attention.

The second act, also the act of much more dancing and less storyline, has principal dancers Elizabeth Murphy and Jerome Tisserand dancing the signature roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. As partners in ‘the Nutcracker’ for the past three years, they executed the pas de deux with ease, and Tisserand again excelled in his solo. With Clara and the Nutcracker sitting at the back of the stage, a series of dances of different styles are presented like a dancing festival, and the ones of Coffee (Elle Macy) and Candy Cane (Benjamin Griffiths) are without question the audience-favorites. A corps member on the rise, Macy manages to make the Coffee part very much her own after many beautiful  interpretations done by PNB principal dancers such as Noelani Pantastico, Laura Tisserand and Sarah Ricard Orza.

As the series of dances come to an end, the Dewdrop (Lesley Rausch) glides onto the stage among the fourteen flowers dressed in bright orange, and red tutus. Precise in her technique as usual, Rausch sways and turns among the flowers lightly as if gravity ceases to exist. The grand finale has every performer on stage; the sheer number of dancers and students, plus the scene of Clara and Nathaniel sitting in a rising reindeer-pulled sled, generates a huge round of applause from parents of the students as well as audiences who love the festive season.

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