A Tough Nut to Crack

After 31 years, Pacific Northwest Ballet is finally staging a new Nutcracker. Here’s what you need to know.

By Seth Sommerfeld November 23, 2015 Published in the December 2015 issue of Seattle Met

1. drosselmeier  clara and nutcracker sketch by ian falconer akwzow

Ian Falconer/Courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet

Look, there are undoubtedly going to be traditionalists who nitpick everything about Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. For starters, it’s not Kent Stowell and Maurice Sendak’s Nutcracker, which graced the PNB stage during the holiday season for an unprecedented 31 years. And then there are the all-new costumes and sets designed by children’s book author Ian Falconer. Change is hard, but don’t fuss. New traditions aren’t built overnight.


Some hardcore ballet fans were not-so-secretly tired of Stowell’s uninspiring choreography. According to artistic director Peter Boal, Balanchine’s rendition is not only more technically and dramatically challenging, but it also “entrusts more of the choreography to children.”


More than 150 new costumes have been created for the show. According to Boal, “Falconer’s palette is much bolder and more vibrant than Sendak’s. Ian goes for these really notable stripes, strong patterns, darker colors. They are just going to explode off the stage in act 2.”


The new Christmas tree centerpiece took 400 hours to build and towers well above the audience’s sight line. Other touches include a “magical” bed that floats around the stage and a festive flying sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Nutcrackersets falconer lt002 by ian falconer tgqnbm

Ian Falconer/Courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet


In Stowell’s version, Clara’s act 2 dream has her fully grown and taking center stage. But here she remains a girl throughout, while the Sugar Plum Fairy dances the lead. Other new characters include Mother Ginger (played by a man on stilts) who wears a 10-foot, 60-pound skirt that hides child dancers and a bunny army.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
Thru Dec 28, McCaw Hall, $25–$156

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