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Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Classic 'Nutcracker' enchants young and old alike

Special to The Seattle Times

Now playing

"Nutcracker" Pacific Northwest Ballet, through Dec. 28, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $20-$118 (206-441-2424 or www.pnb.org).


A Northwest "Nutcracker" for every locale, budget and attention span

Pacific Northwest Ballet rolled out its gorgeously intricate "Nutcracker" on Friday night for its annual monthlong holiday run.

With sets and costumes by children's illustrator Maurice Sendak and choreography by former co-artistic director Kent Stowell, PNB's version of this popular ballet has a slight edge of mystery and poignancy that deepens its beauty and sense of wonder. This complexity rewards repeated viewings, and many audience members do come back as part of a holiday tradition.

Excited, dressed-up children, towing parents or grandparents, stop in the lobby to pose with the Mouse King and Clara, photos that mark the growth of each year in the way that posing with Santa does for other families. In my case, "Nutcracker" is closely connected to the image of my daughter changing over the years from a tiny child leaning forward in the dark, scarcely breathing, transfixed by the movement and color and music, to a teen who can sit back and enjoy both the ballet's beauty and its complex metaphors of childhood's transience.

The adeptness of Sendak and Stowell's storytelling, based on an 1819 tale by E.T.A. Hoffman and a scenario by Marius Petipa, is that it works on several levels. The bright, fast-moving, characters from Clara's dream world, turbaned mice, dashing nutcrackers, whip-wielding Pashas, blend with the characters of her real life as an haute bourgeois young lady in a German town.

All of the characters were beautifully conveyed on opening night. Uko Gorter's energetic, obsessive Herr Drosselmeier caught just the right balance of threat and jollity. This mysterious figure brings gifts to the children but is more interested in stirring up a battle between Clara and her brother (the small dynamo D.J. Heath) than he is in interacting with the adult guests.

Colby Lewis as the young Clara is a beautiful dancer with a lovely stage presence. She caught the awe and wonder from her first appearance, still confused by the scrim of her nightmare about mice and nutcrackers, to the thrill of the Christmas tree growing giant-size, to the final moment of reassurance on waking up and finding that she is still just a child on a sunny December morning.

Throughout the ballet, fast-moving scenes, swordplay and cannon fire, swinging grandfather clocks and a boat moving through leaping dolphins, keep even the smallest child's attention, while the moments of lyrical beauty keep the rest of us happy.

In one of the most beautiful of these lyrical scenes the warm, hectic interior of the living room with its sparkling tree and warring mice suddenly opens out to the cold, moonlit world outside. Snowflakes begin to fall, and Clara steps forward fully adult. Louise Nadeau's Clara was breathtakingly gorgeous, her steely strong line tempered with the softest delicacy and grace. Olivier Wevers danced her ideal prince: boyish, playful, tender. Their duet was followed by swirls of dancers in floaty, ice-blue tutus blowing across the stage as snowflakes continued to fall.

Featured dancers on opening night included Carrie Imler in the waltz of the flowers; Jodie Thomas as the ballerina doll; Kiyon Gaines as the swashbuckling sword dancer; Lesley Rausch, Anton Pankevitch and Lucien Postlewaite as the masque trio; Eric Hipolito as the high-leaping Chinese Tiger; and Ariana Lallone as the caged peacock.

Many children from the Pacific Northwest Ballet School performed with accuracy and musicality, showing their good training and dedication with every step.

Stewart Kershaw conducted the familiar, lovely music, with vocal soloists Catherine Haight and Emily Lunde.

Some of the choral parts could be heard at intermission sung unselfconsciously loud and more or less on tune by a very small child making her way into the lobby with her grandmother.

Experiencing the joy of "Nutcracker" can fortify you for the hectic demands of the holiday. It slows it all down for a minute (but not slow enough to lose the attention of the younger children in the audience), and leaves you tuned to what is genuine and beautiful in this season.

Mary Murfin Bayley: marybayley@aol.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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