The journey through Pacific Northwest Ballet’s presentation of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker begins even before taking your seat. Upon entering McCaw Hall, you’re greeted by glittering Christmas decor and your pick of photo opportunities, where you can set yourself in scenery from the world of Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The characters and choreography of The Nutcracker vary widely depending on each producer’s interpretation of the original German tale, but the story remains recognizable. As soon as Tchaikovsky’s enthusiastic overture begins, the audience is flown — both by the music and by PNB’s inspired use of digital animation — through a snow-covered village to land at Clara’s front door, where guests are arriving for her family’s Christmas party.
As the familiar fable plays out, the audience may notice a distinguishing aspect of Balanchine’s Nutcracker: the number of young dancers who join in the fun. In PNB’s rendition, two full casts of 70 children from the Pacific Northwest Ballet School play parts, from party guests in the first act to candy canes in the Land of Sweets. The miniature danseurs may not always hit all the steps or be completely in sync with their comrades, but on stage their joy and exuberance only help to uplift the enchanted audience.
The Nutcracker will no doubt impress dance fanatics who appreciate the technique of the professionals. Herr Drosselmeier — in his signature cape — delights the onstage guests and theatergoers alike with his Harlequin and Columbine dolls — ballerinas using robotic movement not-so-easily executed in pointe shoes. After the epic battle between the toy soldiers and the mice, Clara floats away into the wintry forest, guided by energetic snowflakes that fly weightlessly across the stage.
In the Land of Sweets, the lead Candy Cane (played by a buoyant James Moore on opening night) performs gravity-defying stunts using only a hula hoop. The representation of Coffee (Laura Tisserand) shows off her enviable leg extension. Noelani Pantastico is perfection as the Dewdrop, flanked by a bouquet of Flowers in bright petals.
Leta Biasucci’s dazzling smile never leaves her face, even while performing the intricate petit allegros that the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy demands, along with her Cavalier (Benjamin Griffiths) who makes challenging turn combinations appear effortless. The roaring applause that each of their performances garners is well-deserved.
Of course, the captivation of this traditional holiday tale would not be complete without the set and costume designers, whose work shines throughout the entire production. Combined with the dancing, the richly-colored fashion, oversized scenery and visual effects ensure a magical show, whether you’re watching it for the first or the fortieth time.
The Nutcracker runs through Dec. 28, 2016. For more information and to buy tickets, visit Pacific Northwest Ballet’s website.