Still Nuts About PNB’s Nutcracker

by on December 10, 2012

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta in the Kent Stowell/Maurice Sendak Nutcracker. (Photo © Angela Sterling)

The Chinese Tiger scene from Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker. (Photo © Angela Sterling)

The world famous snow scene from Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker. (Photo © Angela Sterling)

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I must, by now, have been to the Kent Stowell/Maurice Sendak Nutcracker at Pacific Northwest Ballet (at McCaw Hall until December 29  this year; tickets) at least twenty times, and each time I find something else to enjoy. Sunday’s performance was no different. I found myself watching the children in the cast, from the very young (who looked hardly more than four years old) to the teens, and marveling at the poise and acting skills they exhibited.

223 children participate each year, in several casts, so no one is on for all thirty performances. The care and training they receive is phenomenal. This is not a school performance. These kids are performing like professionals. When they are on stage they are totally on, acting their roles with seeming naturalness, from the six little boys’ bored attitude when the ballerina doll is dancing in the first act, to the Chinese girls who do not get mixed up in their long ribbons attached to the Chinese Tiger in the last.

The small boy sitting behind me exclaimed how much he liked the swords and the cannon in the battle between mice and toys. I wondered how he would feel if anyone pointed out the soldiers operating the cannon were all girls! Those children who dance are equally polished: the young Clara and her friends among them.

(This annual Nutcracker says a lot for the PNB School from which they all come, some through DanceChance, the PNB program which encourages gifted children from area public schools who might never have discovered their dancing ability without it.)

A cast member who gets plenty of laughs is Herr Drosselmeier, the mysterious patch-eyed godfather who brings the Nutcracker to Clara and encourages mischief in the small boys, but think of the fleshing out of this character which retired PNB dancer Uko Gorter achieved so fully Sunday. With this role — which he made one of his own during his career and now comes back to play — it is easy to miss many details of the performance (so much else is going on), but his expressions as Drosselmeier, his efforts at dancing with Clara, his glee at persuading the boys to tease, and the old man’s aging body are all there every moment.

Then, or course, there are the dancers themselves. The Nutcracker is an opportunity for many members of the company, and also of the preprofessional students in the school, to shine in the dozen and more solo roles, from Masque dancers and Sword dancer doll in the first act to the many who provide the entertainment for Clara and the Prince in the last. Among my favorites are the three Dervishes whirling about and the commedia trio with poor Pierrot never quite able to gain the total attention of either Pierette.

Then there are the two big roles taken by senior company dancers, those of Clara and the Prince.

Kaori Nakamura danced Clara Sunday in one of her finest performances yet. She has been a PNB principal for fourteen years now and before that was a principal with Royal Winnipeg Ballet, but she still dances like a feather, as light as thistledown in her movements and intensely musical and expressive in her phrasing.

Her Prince Sunday was Jonathan Porretta, whose impish timing has often had him playing jester-type roles, but is now showing his ability as a more straightforward male lead. A wonderful dancer, he partnered Nakamura well, though there were occasions when he held her slightly off balance in turns.

Tchaikovsky’s music, played with finesse at every performance by the PNB Orchestra, was conducted Sunday by Allan Dameron.

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