Weekend Highlights

Published December 8, 2014
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 Pacific Northwest Ballet/Angela Sterling.

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 often 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 is recognized worldwide as one of the most unique and captivating. 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 inspired sets and costumes by beloved children's author/illustrator Maurice Sendak (enjoy them now in their final season!), lead the audience into a world filled with 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.

True to the simple, but intriguing design of the wooden nutcracker – the namesake of the show – the stagecraft 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 31 years of the show, it all works seamlessly. The acoustic quality of McCaw Hall 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.

Where: McCaw Hall, 301 Mercer St., Seattle
When: Now through Dec. 28 - most shows are sold out except for the 2 p.m. matinee on Thursday, Dec. 18!
Cost: $35-$146 (discounts for children 12 and younger) 
Contact: 206-441-2424, pnb.org

ARC Dance Company

ARC Dance Productions will present two full-length performances of ARC's Classic Nutcracker at Shorewood Performing Arts Center. ARC's Classic Nutcracker portrays the traditional story of Clara's adventure with her Nutcracker Prince, a seven-headed Mouse King and a magical visit to the Kingdom of the Sweets, all set to the familiar Tchaikovsky ballet music score. ARC Dance Company, Arc Youth Dance Company and Arc School of Ballet are combining talents in this production.

ARC Dance added a full-length version of Nutcracker to its already sold-out performances of its abbreviated, child-friendly version of the same ballet called Nutcracker Sweets. Artistic Director Marie Chong said, “As part of Arc School of Ballet's 10th anniversary celebration, I thought it would be the perfect occasion to bring back some former students and company dancers to mount a full-length Nutcracker this season. Our shorter Nutcracker Sweets version has been wildly popular, but it is time to expand our students' and our audience's experiences by producing a full-length version.”

Where: Shorewood Performing Arts Center, 17300 Fremont Ave. N., Shoreline
When: Dec. 20 at 4 p.m. and Dec. 21 at 2 p.m.
Cost: $25 adults, $15 children 10 and younger 
Contact: 206-352-0798, arcdance.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. 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. The exquisite costumes and sets handcrafted by the Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet of Ukraine  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 all of the beautiful details.

Each year, the performers are selected from IBT’s International School of Classical Ballet from all age groups. 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. Don't miss the Nutcracker Children's Party, happening at the matinee performances on Dec. 14 and 21. 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. 12-23
Cost: $25-$50
Contact: 425-284-0444, 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, with a cast made up of 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 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: Stroum Jewish Community Center, 3801 E. Mercer Way, Mercer Island
When: Dec. 13-21
Cost: $22-$35
Contact: 206-275-4750, IYBNutcracker.com

NORTH SOUND

Emerald Ballet Theatre

Touting its eighth 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 100 EBT students, hand-selected from Titova’s Emerald Ballet Academy, bring Hoffman’s endearing story to life. As well, Titova brings in a few featured performers from other ballet companies each year to star in the production.

“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.”

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. The live performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score 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, which makes it a good option for families.

Where: Northshore Performing Arts Center, 18125 92nd Ave. N.E., Bothell
When: Dec. 13 and 14
Cost: $20-$35
Contact: 425-984-2471, 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. With new staging that premiered last year as well as a sparkling new backdrop, this year’s production will continue to delight, 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.

The large cast of more than 100 performers is selected directly from the Olympic Ballet School. Artistic Directors and husband-and-wife team Mara Vinson and Oleg Gorboulev also invite renowned guest artists from some of the nation’s top ballet companies to star in the principal roles.

OBT's educational abridged matinees of The Nutcracker, offered at the Everett Performing Arts Center on Dec. 12 and the Edmonds Center for the Arts on Dec. 18, 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. 13 and 14 
Cost: $20-$30 
Contact: 425-774-7570, olympicballet.com

Where: Edmonds Center for the Arts, 410 4th Ave. N., Edmonds
When: Dec. 19 through 21 
Cost: $20-$30
Contact: 425-774-7570, 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 production features 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: Mount Baker Theatre, 104 N. Commercial St., Bellingham
When: Dec. 13 and 14
Cost: $20-$35
Contact: 360-734-6080, northwestballet.org

Where: McIntyre Hall, 2501 E. College Way, Mount Vernon.
When: Dec. 20 and 21
Cost: $24-$35 
Contact: 360-416-7727, 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. 13 and 14
Cost: $13-$25
Contact: 425-228-6800, evergreencityballet.org

Where: Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, 400 S. 2nd St., Renton
When: Dec. 20 and 21
Cost: $14-$32
Contact: 425-228-6800, evergreencityballet.org

Tacoma City Ballet

In order to restore Princess Pirlipat’s beauty and break the “Curse of Ugliness” the Mouse Queen’s evil spell had cast upon her, the Princess must eat the kernel of the Magical Krakatuk Nut. Christian Elias Drosselmeyer, as ordered by the King, must find both the Magical Krakatuk Nut and the young man who is fated to crack it open.

This season, Tacoma City Ballet celebrates its 31st production of The Nutcracker & The Tale of The Hard Nut. This timeless holiday classic, first presented in 1892 in St. Petersburg, has entertained generations for over a century.

Now, told in its entirety, The Tale of The Hard Nut is presented alongside the traditional Russian The Nutcracker, creating a glorious production filled with dancing, music, grand scenery and lavish costumes. Under the artistic direction of Erin M. Ceragioli, with the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra in the beautiful Pantages Theater, This special Nutcracker is worth a weekend trip to downtown Tacoma.

Where: Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma
When: Dec. 13-23
Cost: $19-$69
Contact: 253-272-4219, tacomacityballet.com


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A Parent’s Review: PNB’s Nutcracker

This year marks the 31st anniversary of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Stowell and Sendak Nutcracker, and there’s a reason why it’s maintained legendary status all these years: It’s simply breathtaking. I’ve seen it several times, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. This year marks the first time that I’ve deemed my kids old enough to enjoy the show, and enjoy it they did.

Read the full review here.