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Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Elle Macy as Dewdrop with company dancers in a scene from "George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker," performed by Pacific Northwest Ballet at Seattle's McCaw Hall through Dec. 28, 2021. (Photo: Angela Sterling)

‘The Nutcracker’ is back! Tips for enjoying this magical Seattle production

Parent review: There are issues of cultural appropriation but overall this world-class production is a joyful experience.

The Pacific Northwest Ballet production of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” returns live with a new resident of the Land of Sweets: Green Tea Cricket.

Director Peter Boal consulted Phil Chan, co-founder of Final Bow for Yellowface, to reimagine the Chinese Tea role. Cricket, a symbol of good luck, is a more positive representation of Chinese culture in ballet and received the blessing of the Balanchine Trust.

Generation Alpha and Z kids are taught from an early age that “culture is not a costume.” What are they to make of Act II, a tour of foreign, often exoticized delicacies? My Gen Z daughters’ hot take on Green Tea Cricket: “still racist.”

The Nutcracker is an opportunity to consider: What is cultural appreciation versus appropriation? Do young audiences prefer that the Nutcracker is updated to reflect contemporary societal values or will they appreciate it as an 1890s artwork, reimagined by Balanchine in 1952? Why was the Chinese Tea character refreshed and the Arabian Coffee character left untouched? The Arabian, styled as a peacock by the PNB, is a lithe female dancer whom Balanchine reportedly originally choreographed intentionally in a sexy routine to entertain the fathers in the audience. (“Give the fathers something to look at,” he said, according to a 2003 article in Dance Research Journal.)

Is the peacock next to be rewritten or will Gen Z embrace her body positivity?

Cultural debate aside, the production is magical and we are fortunate to have this world-class ballet in downtown Seattle.

[ More holiday arts and fun: Tickets to buy for holiday excursions or gifts || Holiday events all around Seattle ]

Take a peek into the orchestra pit at McCaw Hall. (Melissa Cox photo)

Enjoying ‘The Nutcracker’ with kids

Emil de Cou, music director of the PNB Orchestra, points out that some audience members may be hearing a live orchestra for the first time. Walk down to the rim of the orchestra pit and admire each musician’s set of holiday lights.

Olivia the pig in the audience at “The Nutcracker”? There’s a reason for that. (Melissa Cox photo)

Get a closer look at the murals stage left and right: See anyone familiar? Olivia the Pig enjoys a box seat thanks to her creator and “Nutcracker” set and costume designer, Ian Falconer. Olivia’s signature red-and-white stripes can be found throughout the production, including on Clara’s party dress.

Warn young viewers: Act I involves more storytelling than dance and may seem to drag. Keep them entertained with “I Spy”: Can they spot an owl, a bunny and a walnut boat? Annalise Dautricourt, our young Clara, is both an elegant dancer and excellent actress. Her subtlety is unusual for a young performer. Once she bops the Mouse King on the head with her slipper and he succumbs to his battle wounds, the stunning “Waltz of the Snowflakes” takes us from reality to a wintry fantasy.

Act II opens with ethereal angels floating through mist, ushering in Elizabeth Murphy’s Sugar Plum Fairy. This queen of all ballerinas is an exquisite ambassador to the Land of Sweets. The choreography becomes more daring and acrobatic. Dewdrop, played by Juliet Prine, is that wonderful combination of both athletic and graceful as she leads the marathon “Waltz of the Flowers.” The tour of foreign delicacies may be problematic, but the dancers and sets truly transport us from Seattle to faroff lands. Where we go in 2022 is for Boal to decide.

Pro tip: Arrive early to secure parking, take photos and enjoy the generally festive atmosphere surrounding “The Nutcracker” productions at McCaw Hall. (Melissa Cox photo)

‘The Nutcracker’: details

The run includes 37 performances, Nov. 26-Dec. 28, at Seattle Center’s McCaw Hall. Tickets start at $27. This is an expensive evening, but a large amount of dancers, musicians and production crew are involved in the show.

Arrive an hour or more early and be mindful of the Seattle Kraken schedule. If a hockey game is happening at Climate Pledge Arena, give yourself an extra 15 minutes and purchase parking in advance. This will give you plenty of time to take pictures in themed photo booths, rent binoculars, grab a booster seat and enjoy the festive pre-show atmosphere. If you hope to enjoy a cupcake or rat king cookie during intermission, it is best to pre-order your goodies before the show.

Run time: two hours, including a 25-minute intermission.

Annalise Dautricourt as Clara (center) with Pacific Northwest Ballet School students in the party scene from “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.” (Photo: Angela Sterling)