Canada Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker: Soloists, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Orchestra, Kent Stowell (choreography), Maurice Sendak (sets and costumes), Emil de Cou (conductor). McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington. 1.12.2014 (RC)
For more than three decades, Kent Stowell and Maurice Sendak’s version of The Nutcracker has been an icon at Pacific Northwest Ballet. The distinctive production belongs wholly to the company with Stowell’s choreography and Sendak’s wondrous and ever-changing decor. Nothing is borrowed; everything sprung from their imaginations. The narrative is so traditional it harked back to very first version, E.T.A. Hoffman’s fairytale, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, sometimes in startling ways—sugar as well as spice—that makes it fresh and new. Of course, the incomparable music is by Tchaikovsky.
The production has played to thousands of people and was the company’s first flutter at national attention. A movie followed as did a book, and one full house followed another. The years slipped by. But there was change in the wind. With Peter Boal’s arrival more than five years ago as artistic director, talk grew beyond whispers. At first company officials denied any suggestion that the Stowell/Sendak version was going to be dumped, even to the point of shouting on occasion. Yet rumors persisted. Other ballets came and went, some more remarkable than others, but none as original as this one. Box office occasionally slumped but then it revived.
So why, one might ask, change something that was a proven success, both with the public and press? The answer is that Boal wanted something that belonged to him, and with the Great Recession taking aim everywhere, the opportunity came to give the Stowell/Sendak production its final rites. A new version, premiering next season, will couple choreography by George Balanchine with sets and costumes by the children’s author and illustrator Ian Falconer.
For the present, the Stowell/Sendak version will be given more than thirty performances at McCaw Hall. Opening night was sold out, and with wild applause from the audience, I saw no indication of any reduced appreciation. As I sat in a new seat with a new perspective, I was astonished, once again, at the production’s subtle, bold beauty.
The company is dancing well these days. The role of Clara was split: Genevieve Knight was young Clara, and Lesley Rausch played old Clara. For Rausch, the climb to principal has been steady, and she demonstrated her elegant technique and style with an authority she did not have a few years ago. Knight, a product of the Pacific Northwest Ballet School, revealed the careful training that has gone into her cool yet charming stage presence. Also a PNB School product is Jerome Tisserand from France. As a student, his talent was not hard to perceive, and it has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. Uko Gorter, of course, was Herr Droswselmeier/Pasha; his portrait is exaggerated, but that is really the point. Lindsi Dec deserves compliments for her sinuous portrayal of the Peacock. And principal Carrie Imler has been a beacon for twelve years; she provided the evidence as the lead in “Waltz of the Flowers,” showing seamless technique and articulation of details.
Emil de Cou, music director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra for the past three years, inherited a superior ensemble from Stewart Kershaw. De Cou’s conducting on opening night proved that he has only amplified the group’s existing excellence.