If you go to “The Nutcracker,” you primarily go to see the dancing. After all, despite the beloved Tchaikovsky music and holiday storyline, it is a ballet. But America’s most popular ballet — the Los Angeles Times counted some 750 total productionsin 2011 — also is a winner because of the visuals.
Elaborate sets, fantastical backdrops, intricate costumes and clever props help tell the magic tale of Clara and her nutcracker doll, and Puget Sound area productions are no exception.
Pacific Northwest Ballet hired 35 people last year to make the sets and costumes for its new Balanchine production. Tacoma City Ballet spends over 250 hours cleaning, repairing and refitting costumes. Ballet Northwest makes a dozen new ones every year.
So, which one will you see? Here’s our annual roundup of area “Nutcrackers” to help you decide.
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Pacific Northwest Ballet
When Pacific Northwest Ballet designed a brand-new production last year for George Balanchine’s 1954 “Nutcracker” choreography, they didn’t do it by halves. The pastel Maurice Sendak scenery became the candy-colored brightness of illustrator Ian Falconer (“Olivia the Pig”), with outsized, child’s-eye scale. It took 35 people to make the 22 painted drops with 3,000 square yards of fabric scenery. There are nine layers on each snow skirt, 760 petals on each flower costume, 300 jewels on the Arabian peacock headpieces, 98 yards of fur on 17 mice, 450 lights on a 40-foot Christmas tree and 30 cubic feet of fake snow falling in the snow scene.
This year, the overture’s animated video, sweeping through snowflakes, over forests and into a New England village, gets a companion. A second video plays during the violin solo after the party scene, with live ballet dancers inside a CGI world.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (Dec. 2), 8-9, 14-16; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, 17, 20-23; 12:30 p.m. Dec. 24; 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, 18, 26-28.
Where: McCaw Hall, Seattle Center, 321 Mercer St., Seattle.
Tickets: $25-$190 adults, $22-$171 ages 12 and under.
Information: 206-441-2424, pnb.org.
When Studio West produced its first “Nutcracker” in 2009, they lucked out. Nashville Ballet was going out of business and selling sets and costumes. The Olympia dance company bought the lot.
“It’s so exciting to have something on that scale,” said studio manager Rachel Zeigler.
It’s not only handy to have big theater sets (Studio West uses five of the backdrops for the street, party, battle, snow and Land of Sweets scenes), but also to have that many costumes. Anyone who auditions for the Studio West “Nutcracker” gets a part, and this year, there are 224 people among two casts who all need costumes. Zeigler estimates 600 to 1,000 hours go toward fitting, repairing and remaking.
As with many productions, the most complicated costume is that of Mother Ginger, the kindly “lady” (often played by a man, for height and strength) in the Land of Sweets who wears an enormous dress to conceal the tiniest (and cutest) of dancers underneath. Studio West’s Mother Ginger wears stilts and a big steel frame that is lowered from the rafters onto the dancer. This year, 10 little dancers will rush out from underneath the skirts.
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 9 and 16, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 10 and 17, and 1 p.m. Dec. 11 and 18.
Where: Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts, 2011 Mottman Road SW, Olympia.
With sets custom-made for their performance in The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, Ballet Northwest continually adds to the “Nutcracker” scene stock, as well as a dozen new costumes each year. Of the three separate scenes used, the party scene is the most elaborate, growing in size for the fight between mice and toy soldiers (it takes three crew members and a dozen volunteers backstage to grow the Christmas tree). A hand-painted scrim of a village scene at the opening of Act I is backlit to show maids preparing for the party behind it.
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 and 16; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10,17; 2 p.m. Dec. 11, 18.
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.
Tickets: $22-$33 adults; $19-$28 seniors, students; $14-$19 ages 12 and younger.