Holiday Transition

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker takes a bow.

The snow scene from the Sendak/Stowell Nutcracker

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker has been a holiday tradition in the Seattle area for more than 30 years. But this season is the last for the ballet, designed by the late author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, with choreography by former PNB co-artistic director Kent Stowell.

Current PNB artistic director Peter Boal announced earlier this year that, starting in 2015, his company will present a new production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, with sets and costumes by Ian Falconer, creator of the Olivia children’s books.

“We felt so much love coming out of the community for this (Sendak/Stowell) production,” says Boal. But he stresses that fondness hasn’t translated into ticket sales in recent years. “At the end of the day, we made the decision to refresh, to renew.”

Kent Stowell wonders about the wisdom of tinkering with a holiday tradition. “It’s an iconic production for our profession, and it’s an icon for the city,” he says. “It’s like if we said, ‘Well, I have a great idea for a new Space Needle, so we’re going to tear it down and do another one.’”

Seattle-based dance writer Sandra Kurtz agrees that jettisoning the Sendak/Stowell ballet could be a tactical mistake for PNB. She says it distinguishes PNB from companies around the country that present Balanchine’s Nutcracker. “It never lost its ‘wow’ factor,” she says. But Kurtz thinks the holiday classic is resilient, and ultimately a new Nutcracker will probably find an audience in Seattle.

PNB principal dancer Carla Körbes agrees. Körbes spent six years at New York City Ballet, where she danced in Balanchine’s Nutcracker. She says it will take time for the PNB dancers to learn the Balanchine choreography but adds, “I think it’s going to be exciting for everybody to try something different.”

PNB’s Peter Boal is confident both his dancers and his audiences will grow to love the Balanchine Nutcracker. “Everybody is attached to the Nutcracker they grew up with, the first one they saw,” he says. In Boal’s case, it was the Balanchine production, which he saw as a child and danced in hundreds of times during his own performing career at NYCB. “I know the Balanchine production so well, and I have such great faith in that choreography, the magic that it’s brought to so many audiences over the years,” he adds.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s final performance of the Sendak/Stowell Nutcracker is December 28. DT

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Marcie Sillman is an award-winning arts reporter based in Seattle. Her radio stories have been featured on NPR, Voice of America and other networks.

Photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy of PNB

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