'Nutcracker' a delight for both adults and children

Nutcracker by John Soltys
Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Nutcracker" once again proves ballet is not just for dance lovers.
   Running now through Dec. 30, the dance tells the timeless story of Clara and her dreams after a family Christmas party at which her mysterious Godfather Drosselmeier presents her with a wooden Nutcracker.
   When Clara falls asleep after the party she is transformed into the beautiful young woman of her fantasies, who is joined by a handsome Prince. The two fight the giant King of Mice in a fierce battle.
   The booming sound of cannons actually being fired saw the audience come alive. The cannons were only one of the many unique touches which have helped make the production a holiday classic.
   The elaborate sets and costumes by Maurice Sendak (of "Where the Wild Things Are" fame) have lost none of their lustre. Sendak's incredible creative talent shines in the costumes of the Cavalry, whose "horses" appeared to really canter around the stage, and in the sets for the last scene of Act I, in which Clara and her Prince dance amongst flurries of snowflakes that fool the audience into a collective shiver.
   While Act I takes place at Clara's home in Nuremburg, Act II is a showcase of talent as Clara and her Prince travel to an exotic port. The kingdom's Grand Pasha, who looks suspiciously like Clara's Godfather, delights them with wonders from the East, including a sensuous peacock and a hilarious Chinese tiger.
   Eventually Clara wakes up, and the dream ends, as all great dreams must. She is left wondering, however, "where fantasy ends and growing up begins."
   Although the majority of the audience on opening night looked to be serious ballet connoisseurs, fully a quarter were children, many under 10 years old.
   While this statistic might warn potential ticket buyers of disruptions during the performance, the children added to the overall experience rather than detracting from it. Their sense of awe as the peacock strutted about the stage or the Chinese tiger lunged after his handlers proved contagious.
   Even the most staid viewers were compelled to crack a smile in appreciation of PNB's effect on the youngsters, and even the occasional "When can we go, Mommy?" was tolerated gracefully.
   Even after the final applause has faded, Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" rings quietly in your ears and Kent Stowell's choreographic mastery dances before your eyes, proving the "Nutcracker" at PNB is still one of the great ballets.