It’s always a dilemma – do you support local Tacoma ballet companies dancing “The Nutcracker” or do you make the crowded-freeway/nightmare-parking/expensive-ticket trek to the Seattle Center to see the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s highly acclaimed version with sets by Maurice Sendak? This year, I’m trying to do both.
On Saturday night I did PNB. For 23 years now our nationally-famous Seattle company has done this version, and it’s still marvellous. Thanks to the new film of “Where the Wild Things Are,” the sets by kids’ author Maurice Sendak take on a whole new look: the Stahlbaum’s pink-and-blue Rococo Christmas party where Clara gets her Nutcracker toy, the pale snow scene with lacy stage wings, Clara and the Prince’s magical boat trip (with a Wild Thing peering out from behind an island) and finally the lush palace of the Pasha where all those exotic candy dances are performed.
The dancing, too, is always excellent at PNB. Hailey Hartwich’s Clara is a sassy pre-teen, gossiping with friends and entirely believable when she fantasizes about a debonair Nutcracker Prince (a dapper Jeffrey Stanton.) Timothy Lynch makes an eccentric, rather scary Drosselmeier; little Theo DePina as Clara’s brother Fritz is endearingly small and very funny, breaking the Nutcracker by jumping up and down on it with a borrowed sword, which anyone with small boys can totally relate to. His cohorts play their parts mischievously, and the children dancing as the Pasha’s servants and toys are both precise and playful.
Other dancers stand out this year: Kylee Kitchens, as the exotic peacock emerging from a cage for the Arabian Dance, is both bird-stiff and seductively flexible. Josh Spell makes a dashing Errol Flynn-type Poirot in the Commedia del’Arte trio; and the Corps showed off stunning choreography and brilliant execution in the Waltz of the Flowers.
One of the new highlights for this year is a line-up of non-balletic guest artists for the part of grandfather or grandmother in the party scene. On Saturday night it was the Seattle P-I’s blogger-diva Monica Guzman; upcoming shows feature KOMO TV’s Steve Pool (Dec. 11), Joyce Taylor from KING 5 news (Dec. 19) and UW Husky Quincy Pondexter (Dec. 23).
PNB’s “The Nutcracker” runs almost daily through Dec. 30 at McCaw Hall, Seattle Center, 321 Mercer St., Seattle. Tickets from $26. Information: 206-441-2424, www.pnb.org