The Pacific Northwest Ballet's much-anticipated production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker opened this weekend. Staged here by PNB artistic director Peter Boal, Judith Fugate (ex NYCB principal and Balanchine Trust repetiteur) and Garielle Whittle (ex NYCB), the magnificent production awakens nostalgia and is sure to inspire dreams. 

Ian Falconer's scenic and costume designs set the whimsical tone of this tale. An author and illustrator of children's books and an illustrator for The New Yorker magazine, Falconer's images are as amusing and decorative as they are narrative. Large panels at either side of the curtain depict well-dressed theater goers in box seats, including Olivia the Pig, one of Falconer's characters from his children's book, opera glasses in hand and looking toward the stage. One wonders what they're thinking as they watch the performance with the audience. Each scene is a visual feast that seems lifted from the pages of a story book and animated as children's imaginations might conjure – there's a grand Christmas tree that grows to a height of 40 feet and life-sized dolls that dance.

Joshua Grant and Joh Morrill in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™,  © The George Balanchine Trust © Angela Sterling
Joshua Grant and Joh Morrill in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™, © The George Balanchine Trust
© Angela Sterling
Costumes are fanciful and detailed, and well-appointed for the aesthetic of each character. Scenes change seamlessly by panels that raise and lower, and frame the sides to add depth, and ornamentally painted backdrops. Internationally renowned and Pacific Northwest based glasswork artist Dave Chihuly lends a spectacular piece titled 'Winter Star'. Hung upstage during the snow scene, its cluster of tentacle forms, like rays of starburst, reflects the golden lighting – lighting design by John F. Ingalls lit each scene beautifully.   

At the opening overture, the curtain, noted with a 'N', rose to a film projection that takes the audience flying over a snow-covered village and through the front doors of the Stahlbaum's mansion, where Christmas Eve festivities are just beginning. 

70 students of the Pacific Northwest Ballet School perform in each cast, in addition to the Pacific Northwest Ballet Professional Division Students who join the main company in each program. Tonight's performance of Clara and the Little Princess was played by a delightful Eden Anan, who made us feel her excitement and joy with each skip and smile. She was genuine in her character and showed intelligence in portraying it through the story's different scenes. Joh Morrill, as Nathaniel and the Little Prince, showed impeccable dramatic timing in the battle scene with several giant mice and his duel with the Mouse King, and also, great clarity in his mime recounting the battle in the second act. 

Maintaining clarity in the battle scene between the mice and soldiers can be challenging, but the company did well. The soldiers came out in unison, in crisp marches, and shot cheese balls at the mice, who scuttled nervously in their portly costumes. Sabrina Lawler was a fine Hare Drummer, and her quick dash away from the Mouse King made him seem even more dangerous.         

The sixteen snowflakes danced Balanchine's signature weaving patterns with delicate ease, with added softness evoked by the short layers of fabric draped over the flowing, calf-length tutus.

Snow scene from George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™, © The George Balanchine Trust © Elise Bakketun
Snow scene from George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™, © The George Balanchine Trust
© Elise Bakketun
The second act opened with a breathtaking scene of twelve angels gliding through a light covering of fog. Each glided smoothly through the formations and made it seem effortless and angelic. The Hot Chocolate dancers evoked Flamenco in ornate costumes; the pair of Joshua Grant and Kylee Kitchens were especially lively. Coffee, also known as the Arabian Dance, is danced as a solo in Balanchine's production, and its footwork has always seemed too brisk and balletic for the stylised music. Nevertheless, Sarah Ricard Orza, in an exquisite bodice and skirt patterned like peacock feathers, captured the music with her flowing upper body and serpentine arms. The three dancers in Tea, of a Chinese theme, were light on their feet and energetic. Matthew Renko led the troupe of eight peppy candy canes with matching striped hula hoops, while Miles Pertl, as Mother Ginger, with her eight Polichinelles emerging from underneath her exaggerated skirt were amusing. The five Marzipan Shepherdesses, and the fourteen flowers, led by Dewdrop Chelsea Adomaitis, showed best Balanchine's aesthetic, in intricately weaving patterns and quick and light steps; the delicate petals on their skirts fluttered with every jump. Noelani Pantastico, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and James Moore, as her Cavalier, both premiering in their roles, may need some time to relax into the choreography and linger in the adagio notes of the grand pas de deux.

Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Emil de Cou, captured the richness of Tchaikovsky's timeless score, with beautiful violin solos by Concertmaster Michael Jinsoo Lim.

As Little Princess and Little Prince were pulled away on their reindeer-drawn sleigh, the reindeer's legs, true to the meticulous detail of Falconer's designs, were galloping along as well.