Photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy of PNB

For many dancers, performing in some version of The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition—albeit an inescapable, monthlong one that can quickly grow tedious. But for Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Noelani Pantastico, it's a welcome return to her roots. After an 11-year career with PNB, where she annually performed Kent Stowell and Maurice Sendak's fantastical adaptation, she left to join Les Ballets de Monte Carlo—a company with no classical Nutcracker. "I did miss it," she admits. When she returned to PNB last fall, seven years later, the company had just traded the Stowell/Sendak production for George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Pantastico was pleasantly surprised to discover her muscle memory kicked in—from her training days at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, which also performs the Balanchine version. "I remembered things from when I was a teenager," she says. "I was coached by Darla Hoover, and it's ingrained in the body." At the end of last month, Pantastico began her PNB Nutcracker run, alternating among leading roles like the Sugar Plum Fairy, Dewdrop and Marzipan.

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