What puts me in the "holiday spirit"? Well, stuffing myself with turkey doesn't do it. Neither does fighting my way through the crowds on Black Friday. No, what really puts me in the holiday mood is a trip to Seattle Center's McCaw Hall to watch Pacific Northwest Ballet perform its lively Stowell/Sendak production of 'Nutcracker'.
No matter how many times I've seen it, this perennial favorite never ceases to thrill, delight and amaze me. With sets designed by Maurice Sendak and elaborate props featuring a "growing" Christmas tree, a gigantic Mouse King with sinister tail encircling the stage, to a golden boat sailing along the ocean blue, it's easy to see why Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker is ranked as one of the most beloved productions among its "nutty" peers.
Maria Chapman and Seth Orza shined in the starring roles of Clara and her handsome Nutcracker Prince. Their final pas de deux was the fuel of dreams - effortless lifts, dazzling smiles and spot-on technique. Together they brought this storybook fantasy adventure to life and carried it all the way through. I even detected a few weeping patrons at the end of Act 2, following Chapman's tearful exit. (That's when you know you've struck that golden chord of connection with your audience! Bravo!)
Lesley Rauch's interpretation of the Peacock was everything one could hope for - sensuous and beguiling, with a whisper of sadness in her colorful wings. Is she a prisoner? Does she want to escape? Or is she secretly content with her golden confines? If you can make me feel all that, then as far as I'm concerned, you've embodied the role of Peacock!
Gorgeous port de bras and swirling tutus made many a young girl gasp during the Waltz of the Flowers with Carrie Imler as "Flora". What I love most about Imler is her innate sense of timing and control. She can go from lightening "quick-quick" turns into a deliberately slow "melt" on.a.dime! She's amazing, folks. Truly amazing.
Whirling dervishes Jerome Tisserand, Kyle Davis and Ezra Thomson made the little boys in the audience sit up and pay attention. Their electrifying leaps, turns and jumps were perfectly executed and received a boisterous round of applause.
And speaking of children, it just wouldn't be right NOT to mention the talent and dedication of the Pacific Northwest Ballet school students. Their roles ranged from adorable to breathtaking - from the sweet young Clara and her friendly party guests (with bouncy ringlets and big smiles for the girls and plenty of spirited hijinks from the boys), to the battling soldiers engaged in a fierce war with the creepy giant Mouse King, from the Chinese Tiger's exotic attendants to the charming Toy Theatre dancers. I think it's great to see the school students perform; they not only bring a fresh layer of excitement to the production, but they also inspire the youngest audience members in a way that polished adults cannot.
Awesome sets, gorgeous costumes, spirited dancing, whirling snowflakes and that famous musical score - I can't think of a better way to ring in the holiday season!
Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker runs through December 27th. Great seats are still available! Visit PNB.org for more information.