Pacific Northwest Ballet

Twenty Years of Glory:  A Review of PNB's Stowell/Sendak 'Nutcracker'

by Dean Speer

November 28 - December 28, 2003 -- Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Seattle

Attending PNB’s opening night performance of their unique Kent Stowell/Maurice Sendak production of "Nutcracker" was a thrill and, as I like to say, "Balm for my eyes!" Although there was an afternoon matinee showing, the official "Nutcracker" season around Puget Sound was declared "open" with the evening performance. And as Mr. Stowell himself said during intermission, "Thirty-six more opportunities left to see other casts!"

[On a side bar, I must note that the conductor, Stewart Kershaw, will mark his 500th performance during the December run! Quite an impressive record.]

Many things have helped put PNB on the ballet map, and the December 1983 premiere of this ballet certainly helped to do that in a major way.

Tonight’s cast was strong, confident, experienced and also gave experience to younger performers in a glorious setting, which includes the lovely and acoustically marvelous theatre, the Marion O. McCaw Hall.

The "older" Clara was danced by PNB star and veteran Patricia Barker, who probably never looked better. I found that she looked happy, relaxed, and in complete control of her technical and interpretive facilities. She has always been "one to watch," and I feel that in the past couple of years, she has really come in to her own as an artist of taste and level of maturity. Please, PNB Management, encourage her to allow audience-types like us to reflect in her radiant glory for AT LEAST five more years (or longer!!)!

Barker was well matched with hunky Stanko Milov, the Bulgarian trained partner of a dream. His partnering is expert and always attentive, and I loved how he handled Barker. For example, at the end of the coda section of Act II where Clara is up in a shoulder sit, he puts her down (she in a tight sous-sus) very slowly in a way that made the descent look rapturous, with her floating. And his own dancing, as in the Act II Cavalier/Prince solo, Milov gains in finesse that is rising to the level of his raw power and strong technique and presence.

Stowell’s Act I is filled with dramatic detail. There is a lot happening at this party! I seen this production many, many times and continue to find things that delight and surprise me. A fun example of this is when Mozart is inserted into the action (a pas de trios that illustrates to Clara the nightmare she’s been having). Drosselmeyer gestures to a bust of Mozart in the Stahlbaum home. It’s really a crack-up! I also like how this character seemingly appears out of nowhere, just as the party is really getting underway, early in Act I.

Stacey Lowenberg was a precise and confident Ballerina Doll and Jordan Pacitti a strong and fearsome Sword-Dancer Doll.

Glorious is the Snow Scene at the conclusion of Act I. The corps as Swirling Snowflakes -- in a snow fall that gets increasingly heavier until it’s practically a blizzard -- is heavenly. Mr. Stowell shows his craft and eye for large group movement and patterns here to the Nth degree.

Ditto for Act II’s famous Waltz of the Flowers. Mara Vinson was truly joyful, light, strong and led the corps of flowers in an ensemble of patterns, bringing them to a tight “bud” at the end that bursts open to a Spring-like pose.

In this production, the Clara and Prince dance both the Snow (Act I) and Grand Pas de Deux. In "traditional" productions, we think of these as Snow Queen and King and Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Barker and Milov were once again "on" for the concluding Pas and matched the challenging and beautiful choreography with elegance, energy, and intelligence.

At a charming, post-performance reception, there was a reunion of the many Claras ("young" and "old"). It was delightful seeing familiar faces and the artists upon whom the tradition of "Nutcracker" has been built.

Seattle and the Northwest have had many "Nutcrackers" and continue to do so, including many fine "community" productions, both small and large scale. However, PNB’s is definitely the leader of the pack. I have come to like this production more and more over the course of its twenty year run and hope we get to enjoy it for at least another twenty! PNB has given us a treasure, and I encourage ballet fans, old and new, to get out and see this show whenever you are in town, or as PNB's own press department likes to say, "See it again for the first time!" Thirty-six more showings between now and the end of 2003.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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