With a 30-foot king rat with a stray flopping tail, swirling cardboard waves, and a clock that grows legs at the stroke of midnight, Maurice Sendak’s set doesn’t attempt realism. His two-dimensional props look more like cutouts from a children’s book than objects of the real world. But that’s fitting from the author of Where the Wild Things Are. And it’s perfect for a show like Nutcracker.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s annual show isn’t a typical ballet. From the stage to the audience, Nutcracker is all about the kids. It allows PNB students to take on serious roles and children (armed with tutus and tiaras, of course) to fill the lobby. In some settings, that would make the show feel juvenile, but at Nutcracker, it’s refreshing. It makes the show what it is — magical.
I’m a veteran Nutcracker attendee. I saw it for the first time at age three and decided that I was going to be a ballerina. That sort of reaction is to be expected; the story practically demands escapism. In the world of Nutcracker, the stroke of midnight can sweep a normal enough girl into a world where soldiers battle rats, nutcrackers become princes, and magical kingdoms are just a ship away. Here fabulously feathered peacocks quiver in gold cages. Snowflakes don’t fall, they sodesha. And dolphins leap in time with almost invisible orchestras.
Though “Nutcracker” isn’t the best show to see for pure classical ballet — it’s a sort of hybrid between theater and choreography — it captures the spirit of dance. It’s carefree and spontaneous in a way that ballet often isn’t thought to be. It’s not afraid to be silly at times. The battles between the children of the party scene always have some spunk. And the Chinese Tiger looks an awful lot like one of the Wild Things from Sendak’s books.
Every time I see Nutcracker, I feel the exact way I did fourteen years ago. Perhaps it’s the dozens of little girls around me experiencing it for the first time. Perhaps it’s the waves of enthusiasm brimming from the smaller members of the cast. Maybe it’s because of that magical moment when the snowflakes bound across the stage in a flurry of tulle. Whatever the reason, I can’t help myself. When I see Nutcracker, I’m three years old again.
Pacific Northwest Ballet
Through December 29