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PNB's The Nutcracker - Top 10 Reasons to Go

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The Nutcracker was scored by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky as a two-act ballet. The original performance, choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, took place in St. Petersburg on Friday, December 18th, 1892. The ballet follows a story inspired by E. T. A. Hoffman called "The Nutcracker and The Mouse King." Since the tale features elements from a child's Christmas dreaming, attending a performance of The Nutcracker ballet has become a holiday tradition around the world.

Pacific Northwest Ballet's version of The Nutcracker is particularly special. With sets and costumes design by Maurice Sendak, a popular and acclaimed writer and illustrator of children's books, PNB's performance truly is like a story book come to life. Child dancers, from beginners to aspiring professionals, fill many roles in this ballet. PNB is based in Seattle and performs at McCaw Hall at Seattle Center. Attending this performance, along with some downtown shopping and other Seattle Christmas events, and you have all the ingredients of a special holiday getaway.

Here are 10 reasons why you should make PNB's The Nutcracker a part of your Northwest holiday tradition.

1. Familiar and Beautiful Music

Although we can't put a name to the individual numbers from The Nutcracker score, most of us recognize them when we hear them. There's the ethereal "Waltz of the Snowflakes" and the romantic "Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy." The "Russian Dance" and the "Tarantella" are exotic and sprightly. We hear these tunes in TV commercials, in the background at the mall, and part of jazzed up Christmas melodies. To hear The Nutcracker music performed live and in its original form is always a thrill.

2. The Colorful Story Book Sets

The detailed and colorful stage sets, curtains, and props for PNB's The Nutcracker were originally designed by Maurice Sendak. The Christmas tree, which grows to gigantic size, is particularly memorable. The scene where Clara and The Nutcracker Prince travel by ship is also fantastic. Combine these elements with the detailed curtains that appear throughout the ballet and it truly feels like a child's colorful story book come to life.

3. The Fun People Watching

Going out to any big public event always means interesting people watching, but the audience at a Nutcracker performance is remarkably fun. While casual attire is perfectly acceptable, most people take advantage of the occasion to dress up in something special. It's the little ones that are funnest to watch. The girls are dolled up in holiday velvet and lace. The boys in sharp little suits or sweaters. Combine that with the thrill on their faces at all the music and dance and you have a delightful show without even looking towards the stage.

4. The Funny Characters

The Chinese Tiger scene from Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker.
Chinese Tiger scene from Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker. (© Angela Sterling)
There's an awful lot of silliness and frolicking taking place on stage during The Nutcracker. The Chinese Tiger character, who performs with child dancers, is particularly amusing. Italian-style clowns, dollhouse characters come to life, and Herr Drosselmeier all add their own humorous moments to the ballet. And don't forget the mice!

5. For the Girls... Pretty Costumes

The snow scene from Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker.
Snow scene from Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker. (© Angela Sterling)
Every little girl is fascinated by the grace and beauty of ballet dancers, particularly their pretty costumes. Throughout The Nutcracker there are enough sparkles and ribbons and floating skirts to make any female sigh. The "Waltz of the Snowflakes" white tulle skirts and the "Dance of the Flowers" floating pink satin more than fulfill every girls vision of the perfect ballerina.

6. For the Boys... Action, Adventure, and Sword Fights

Dancer Andrew Bartee as the Nutcracker in the fight scene from PNB's Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker.
The Nutcracker in the fight scene. (© Angela Sterling)
Boys and ballet. Doesn't seem like a natural mix, does it? Well, boys of all ages will find plenty to appeal to their masculine sensibility in PNB's version of The Nutcracker. In the "Under the Christmas Tree" scene toy soldiers come to life, complete with cannon, cavalry, and muskets. Swords and sword fighting appear in many scenes, from the battle with the Mouse King to the exotic sabre choreography of the "Spanish Dance."

7. The Athleticism

Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Lesley Rausch as the Peacock in PNB's Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker.
Soloist Lesley Rausch as the Peacock (© Angela Sterling)
Ballet dancers are graceful artists, but they are also amazing athletes. That athleticism comes to the fore throughout The Nutcracker. From the controlled posturing of the Peacock to the amazing flips, leaps, and twirls of the Whirling Dervishes, you'll be treated to an incredible display of talent and skill.

8. The Story

The story that unfolds during The Nutcracker ballet is hard to follow, but here's the gist. It all revolves around a young girl, Clara, and her dreams before and after a family Christmas party. During that party, Clara's godfather Herr Drosselmeier, who both frightens and delights her, gives her a Nutcracker doll as a gift. Godfather also gives her pesky little brother a mouse toy, which he uses to tease and scare Clara. In Clara's post-party dreaming, The Nutcracker fights off an army of mouse invaders led by the Mouse King. Transformed into the Nutcracker Prince, he takes a grown-up Clara to his magic kingdom, where he shares the story of the battle with his subjects. Clara and the Prince are entertained by such characters as the Chinese Tiger, the Peacock, and Spring Flowers. They in turn provide entertainment in the form of a lovely pas de deux.

9. Family Photo Ops

Throughout each year there aren't many times - if ever! - that the whole family gets cleaned up and stylishly dressed. Perhaps even dressed in similar red-and-green holiday theme. Attending PNB's The Nutcracker provides the opportunity for your gang to do just that. Take advantage of everyone's sartorial splendor to take that group photo, which you'll cherish for years to come.

10. It's Suitable for the Whole Family

One of the great things about PNB's The Nutcracker is that there's something to appeal to all ages, and nothing to scandalize Grandma or provide a bad influence on the youngsters. It's entirely suitable for every generation of the family.

Downtown Seattle Visitor Information:

Photos courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet. PNB's acclaimed production of Nutcracker featuring choreography by Kent Stowell and sets and costumes by Maurice Sendak at Seattle Center's McCaw Hall. Tickets are available online or by calling 206.441.2424.

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