Weekend Highlights

Published December 3, 2013
Going Places

A Guide to Local Nutcrackers

by Isabel Sanden
seattle child article photo
Olympic Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker.

seattle child article photo
Tacoma City Ballet's The Nutcracker.
Homepage photo courtesy of Island Youth Ballet.

The holiday season is upon us and as the calendar fills up with shopping, holiday baking and decorating, one occasion that has become an annual tradition for many families is going to see The Nutcracker.

The original ballet premiered in Russia in 1892, adapted from E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and performed to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. The San Francisco Ballet company was the first to introduce a complete version to the United States in 1944. George Balanchine staged his version of The Nutcracker, with the New York City Ballet, 10 years later. By the 1960s, the ballet had become a holiday tradition across America.

Nutcracker has the unique ability to inspire magical moments we all have felt as children,” says Yaroslav Altunin, production staff member of the International Ballet Theatre. “As one grows and has children of their own, the connection to the absolute wonder that comes with the Christmas holiday is lost. Yet as the curtain is raised, we are all children under the lights of the stage, basking in the emotional elegance of this fantastic winter ballet.”

We are fortunate to have a very diverse and active dance community in the Puget Sound area. Like fine wines and delicate chocolates, ballet companies have different and unique philosophies and approaches to their study of dance, and these philosophies have a profound effect on the staging, style, setting and performance of their Nutcracker productions.

Below you will find a guide to the Nutcracker performances in our area, and insight into what makes them special and unique. Whether you prefer the most traditional or a more modern interpretation, our region offers a bounty of beautiful performances from which to choose. 

It is no wonder enrollment in ballet schools skyrocket every January!

SEATTLE

Pacific Northwest Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s (PNB) Nutcracker is the king of Nutcracker productions in the region and recognized worldwide as one of the most unique and captivating. A staggering 75,000 people – including many a delighted child  came to see the production last year.

Unlike the Land of Sweets setting in the traditional ballet, PNB's version, choreographed by Kent Stowell, thrills and entertains at the kingly court of Pasha’s Palace. Stowell's brilliant vision combined with the dazzlingly unique and inspired sets and costumes by the beloved children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, lead the audience into a world filled with breathtaking surprises at every turn – a gorgeous peacock, a fearsome tiger, whirling dervishes and a fanciful harlequin. The result is a Nutcracker that captures the attention of even the youngest members of the audience, who otherwise might be lulled into a nap by the more traditional productions. In this contemporary version, the beauty and complexity of the choreography and costuming enchant and enthrall all the way to the spectacular finale.

True to the simple, but intriguing design of the wooden nutcracker – the namesake of the show – the stagecraft is constructed to be timeless and this adds to the charm of the experience. The waves that Clara and her Prince ride through in their boat, the leaping dolphins, the growing Christmas tree, the giant Mouse King, the snow fall – are all powered by the stage crew, not electronically.  And, after 30 years of the show, it all works seamlessly.

McCaw Hall is a setting that befits Nutcracker. The acoustic quality heightens the enjoyment of listening to PNB’s live orchestra perform Tchaikovsky’s score. (Don't miss out on taking your kids down to the orchestra pit at intermission to view the instruments – a rare opportunity these days.) The front lobby is adorned with a 20-foot Christmas tree and a toy theater stage with costumed Nutcracker characters to welcome all. 

Don't be surprised if your kids want to dance around the lobby - and your living room - after the show. 

Where: McCaw Hall, 301 Mercer St., Seattle
When: Now through Dec. 29 
Cost: $25-$140 (discounts for children 12 and younger) 
Contact: 206-441-2424, www.pnb.org

EASTSIDE

International Ballet Theatre

Close to the hustle and bustle of Bellevue's Snowflake Lane, you can get swept away from it all with International Ballet Theatre’s (IBT) classical rendition of The Nutcracker. The intimate Meydenbauer Center Theatre is transformed by IBT’s Nutcracker into a space of wonder and magic during the month of December.

Seeping its roots in the traditional constructs of Russian ballet philosophy, this elegant ballet performance is staged according to the original choreography as it was performed by The Mariinsky Theatre in 1892, with sets and costumes handcrafted by the Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet of Ukraine.

These exquisite costumes and sets, and IBT’s talented dancers, are the reason year after year families return to see IBT’s Nutcracker. The intimacy of Meydenbauer’s 400-seat theater enables the audience to behold the details of IBT’s elaborate production. 

Each year, the performers are selected from IBT’s International School of Classical Ballet from all age groups, including the professional division, children’s program and adult program. The talented dancers of IBT strive to imbue the performance with emotion, warmth and fun in order to create an inspiring performance for the entire family, while soloists from ballet companies around the world also make guests appearances (see IBT’s website for updated information). 

Don't miss the Nutcracker Children's Party, happening at the matinee performances on Dec. 15 and 22. This is a free event with the purchase of your ticket and will open your children’s eyes to the history and many characters of the Nutcracker story. Be sure to register ahead of time for these popular events.

Where: Meydenbauer Center, 11100 N.E. 6th St., Bellevue
When: Dec. 13-23
Cost: $25-$42
Contact: 425-284-0444, www.IBTbellevue.org

Island Youth Ballet

When children watch their peers perform, it makes the dance attainable and the experience can be extraordinary. Island Youth Ballet’s (IYB) all-youth production of Excerpts from the Nutcracker whisks audiences away into the magical scenery of Hoffman's imagination. Period sets, influenced by 19th century Germany, maintain the classical theatrical experience of the production. The dramatic costumes that adorn the dancers were custom designed by professionals from around the country and also at home.

Susan Valencia, IYB’s artistic director, has created a youth-powered production. This year's cast is made up of 52 students selected from Valencia’s Children’s Dance Conservatory and Island Youth Ballet. Valencia is a registered teacher for the Royal Academy of Dance, who embraces the British style for classical ballet training.  

The most memorable scenes from the original Nutcracker have been expertly choreographed to illustrate the strength and skills of younger dancers, while maintaining the integrity and beauty of the traditional story. The result is an inspiring performance showcasing children’s artistic abilities.

“Each year, the production evolves with the dancers," expresses Valencia. "For the dancers, the performance is an expression of love for the holidays and a memory that will last a lifetime.”

Where: Youth Theatre Northwest, 8805 S.E. 40th St., Mercer Island
When: Dec. 14-21
Cost: $22-$35
Contact: 206-275-4750, www.IYBNutcracker.com

NORTH SOUND

Emerald Ballet Theatre

Touting its seventh season and under Artistic Director Viktoria Titova’s thoughtful instruction, Emerald Ballet Theatre (EBT) has grown to have one of the largest Nutcracker casts in the area. More than 150 EBT students, hand-selected from Titova’s Emerald Ballet Academy, bring Hoffman’s endearing story to life. 

EBT is one of the few local productions that feature a live orchestra. Young patrons will enjoy sneaking a peek at Rainier Symphony Orchestra musicians before the show and during intermission. It’s a great introduction to live theatre.

Titova brings in a few featured performers from other ballet companies each year to star in the production. It’s a great opportunity for Emerald Ballet Academy students to meet, learn from and dance with soloists of skill and poise.

“I am very happy that Emerald Ballet Theatre has the privilege of hosting some of the strongest, most beautiful dancers in the world," says Titova. "It is an incredible opportunity for our community to see these dancers perform at the intimate Northshore Performing Arts Center.”

The live performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score for EBT's show is complemented by lavish sets, dramatic costuming and choreography that embody the Russian theatrical traditions. The Northshore Performing Arts Center seating provides excellent viewing opportunities and the free accessible parking also makes it a good option for families.

Where: Northshore Performing Arts Center, 18125 92nd Ave. N.E., Bothell
When: Dec. 7-15
Cost: $20-$35
Contact: 425-984-2471, www.emeraldballet.org

Olympic Ballet Theatre

Olympic Ballet Theatre’s (OBT) traditional interpretation of The Nutcracker has been entertaining audiences in the north end for more than 30 years.  Yet this year’s production will hold some special surprises for those who return year after year to enjoy the show. 

After last year’s success with updating sections of the first act, including the mouse war, Artistic Directors and husband-and-wife team Mara Vinson and Oleg Gorboulev will present updates to the glittering snow scene in the second act. The stagecraft and sets will continue to delight as they have in past years, awakening the spirit of Christmas in children of all ages with characters such as the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer and Mother Ginger and her bouncing Buffoons. Renowned guest artists from some of the nation’s top ballet companies will star in the principal roles.

The large cast of more than 100 performers is selected directly from the Olympic Ballet School.  Vinson and Gorboulev also coordinate more than 100 volunteers to assist with every detail. 

OBT's educational abridged matinees of The Nutcracker, offered at the Everett Performing Arts Center on Dec. 13 and at the Edmonds Center for the Arts on Dec. 19, are especially popular for families with young children. Vinson and Gorboulev choose these venues to provide an affordable, intimate theatrical experience for families. 

Where: Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett
When: Dec. 14 and 15 
Cost: $20-$30 
Contact: 425-774-7570, www.OlympicBallet.com

Where: Edmonds Center for the Arts, 410 4th Ave. N., Edmonds
When: Dec. 19 through 22 
Cost: $20-$30
Contact: 425-774-7570, www.OlympicBallet.com

Northwest Ballet Theater

A neighborhood affair, community support for Northwest Ballet Theater’s (NBT) The Nutcracker has established this classical rendition as an annual event for North Sound families. Drawing on the enthusiasm of NBT’s volunteers and community, the theater has grown and invested in its productions and this year’s Nutcracker is more elaborate than ever. 

The Nutcracker is Northwest Ballet Theater’s gift to the community,” says Artistic Director John Bishop. His production is a full length, unabridged rendition based on the original choreography of Maurice Pepita and Lev Ivanov, which premiered at Saint Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre.

The company has purchased beautiful scenic backdrops hand-painted in Russia, classical tutus sewn by professional seamstresses in New York, and elaborate set pieces and technical stagecraft elements that will elicit surprise and wonder.

Students from Bishop’s Northwest Ballet Academy audition for roles in the performance. And, as a special treat, children are able to take photos with their favorite dancers and characters after each performance.

Where: Nooksack High School, 3326 E. Badger Road, Everson
When: Dec. 7 
Cost: $15-$20 
Contact: 360-714-1246, www.northwestballet.org

Where: Mount Baker Theatre, 104 N. Commercial St., Bellingham
When: Dec. 14 and 15 
Cost: $10-$32 
Contact: 360-734-6080, www.northwestballet.org

Where: McIntyre Hall, 2501 E. College Way, Mount Vernon.
When: Dec. 21 and 22 
Cost: $15-$35 
Contact: 360-416-7727, www.northwestballet.org

SOUTH SOUND

Evergreen City Ballet

Auburn’s Evergreen City Ballet (ECB) brings its magical theatrical ballet to south end audiences. Its state-of-the-art ballet school produces top-notch productions throughout the year, and The Nutcracker is no exception. 

ECB Artistic Director Kevin Kaiser has danced with and trained under some of the world's most renowned choreographers, including Balanchine himself. Having performed in most of the male roles in Kent Stowell’s version of Nutcracker, Kaiser’s extensive experience and passion is reflected in every detail of his show. And it is this attention to detail that captivates local audiences.  Each one of the costumes is designed and hand-sewn by ECB’s dedicated group of experienced volunteers. The hand-painted sets evoke familiar memories of the story.  

Patrons of ECB’s Nutcracker particularly anticipate the masterful party scene; the mouse war with mice escaping into the audience; the beautiful snow scene, where an actual snowfall happens on stage; and the sight of a traditional Madame Bon Bon in the Land of the Sweets. One very special element your children will love is the opportunity to meet their favorite character after the performance. 

The performances in Kirkland were created with a younger audience in mind; the show is reduced to a one-hour performance. Before intermission, see how the snow falls, how the bed magically moves across the stage and how the sets are changed for Act II. You and your family are sure to enjoy seeing your child’s eyes light up as they learn more about this beautiful ballet.

Where: Lake Washington Performing Arts Center, 12033 N.E. 80th St., Kirkland
When: Dec. 7 and 8 
Cost: $15-$34 
Contact: 425-228-6800, www.evergreencityballet.org

Where: Auburn Performing Arts Center, 700 E. Main St., Auburn
When: Dec. 14 and 15 
Cost: $15-$34 
Contact: 425-228-6800, www.evergreencityballet.org

Where: Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, 400 S. 2nd St., Renton
When: Dec. 20-22 
Cost: $15-$34 
Contact: 425-228-6800, www.evergreencityballet.org

Tacoma City Ballet

Tacoma City Ballet (TCB) is celebrating 16 years of its Nutcracker production, which takes audiences back in time to the original Marius Petipa production. The origins of TCB's historically accurate and beautifully choreographed Nutcracker start with the research of Artistic Director Erin M. Ceragioli, whose desire was to recreate the beauty and elegance of the show as it was first performed in Russia back in 1892. 

Ceragioli received a grant in 1998 to follow her dream and create the scenery, set pieces, props and costumes. Keeping within strict historical specifications, everything was recreated locally under her watchful eye. All costumes were handmade, the scenery painted to Petipa's specifications, and the set pieces and props recreated from historical documents and Petipa's original notes. It is a local work of art.

Unlike many performances that follow the traditions of the San Francisco Ballet, Tacoma City Ballet’s Nutcracker also maintains the same historical accuracy with choreography as they do with stagecraft. The result is a richly appointed rendition of The Nutcracker that enchants the eye as well as takes you back in time.

TCB's large cast of 150 performers was selected directly from Tacoma City Ballet and Tacoma City Ballet School, and the show features live accompaniment by the wonderful Northwest Sinfonietta. Playing at the grand and historical Pantages Theater, this special Nutcracker is worth a weekend trip to downtown Tacoma.

Where: Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma
When: Dec. 7-22 
Cost: $20-$60
Contact: 253-272-4219, www.tacomacityballet.com


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