About PNB's Nutcracker
Pacific Northwest Ballet can proudly lay claim to the world's most recognized and celebrated production of Nutcracker. The brilliant result of close collaboration between PNB Founding Artistic Director and choreographer Kent Stowell and renowned children's book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, PNB's Nutcracker premiered to national acclaim in December 1983. The following year saw the publication of "Nutcracker," a new edition of the original E.T.A. Hoffman story with illustrations by Sendak that remained on the New York Times Best Seller List for eight weeks. In 1986, a feature-length film of the Stowell-Sendak Nutcracker, directed by Carroll Ballard, was premiered in Seattle, released nationwide and, subsequently, on video. In addition to annual Seattle performances, PNB has performed Nutcracker in Vancouver, Portland and Minneapolis.
Drawing on E.T.A. Hoffman's "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," Stowell and Sendak delved deeply into the original story, infusing the ballet with a drama and strength that fully complements Tchaikovsky’s rich score, while creating a kaleidoscope of roles for all levels of the Company and School.
Nutcracker is our great repertory ballet. With multiple performances each season, Baby Mice can dream of one day being Party girls and Chinese dancers, Snowflakes, and Flowers and, ultimately, the role of Clara, in which Company women make their debut as ballerina. As students and Company grow up through Nutcracker, so the ballet grows with us, constantly renewing itself and offering challenges and insights about ballet, and life, to the next generation.
Kent Stowell and Maurice Sendak began their collaboration to create a new Nutcracker in 1981.
"I have seen the designs for your Nutcracker
by Maurice Sendak. I thought they were absolutely magnificent and I was filled with a violent greed and envy."
Lincoln Kirstein, Co-founder, New York City Ballet
(l-r) Maurice Sendak & Kent Stowell
during Nutcracker dress rehearsal,
1983. © David Cooper
"My immediate reaction to the request that I design Nutcracker
was negative. I was flattered, but my reasons for saying no were plentiful. To begin with, who in the world needed another Nutcracker
? ….Of course I did it. We did it together. Most of my doubts and worries were put to rest when Kent and I met for the first time early in 1981 in New York City. I liked him immediately for not wanting me to do Nutcracker
for all the obvious reasons but rather because he wished me to join him in a leap into the unknown. He suggested we abandon the predictable Nutcracker
and find a fresh version that did honor to Hoffman, Tchaikovsky, and ourselves. Later that year, Kent invited me to Seattle to see the company's old Nutcracker
. By then I had fallen in love with the project and after that Christmas of 1981, I set to work in earnest."
Maurice Sendak, 1984
"Maurice and I went back to the original Nutcracker
story by E.T.A. Hoffman and incorporated much more of the story into the production. Clara and Herr Drosselmeier will be the central figures though the story essentially remains the same. The essence of the Nutcracker
story is really a fantasy dreamed by Clara, a young girl on the verge of growing up. The ballet is seen unfolding through her eyes, in an atmosphere tinged with mystery, where there are no boundaries between dream and reality. We have worked on the concept of this new production for two years. Seeing our plans become a reality for our company is an incredible accomplishmentone we feel will be well worth it for all our Nutcracker
Kent Stowell, November 1983
The 90 children's roles in Nutcracker are performed by rotating casts of Pacific Northwest Ballet School students.
"Children assemble in front of Seattle's Good Shepherd Center (PNB's Wallingford home until 1993), the
former orphanage where Pacific Northwest Ballet now has its studios. In dancers' tights and jackets against
the early fall chill, they stretch their legs or chat nervously with each other. Mothers hover like duennas on
the edges of the little crowd, sometimes calling out reassurances to their charges. The children, all students
at Pacific Northwest Ballet School, have come to audition for parts in a brand new production of Nutcracker
." Jerome Richard, Northwest educator and journalist, 1983.
"The skills our students are learning are usually not acquired until one becomes a professional dancer. Though the children may have difficulty with the steps at first, by the next rehearsal they have succeeded in putting the steps together smoothly. Everywhere one walks in the Good Shepherd Center these days one finds pairs and trios concentrating on practicing their new steps. Kent is challenging the students' technical abilities; they are thrilled to be dancing so much and are determined to succeed. As we get nearer to opening night the excitement level among the students continues to rise. If I need to calm them down I simply say the word 'Nutcracker' and, magically, everyone falls silent."
Francia Russell, November 1983
Nutcracker premiered on December 13, 1983, at the Seattle Center Opera House, Seattle WA
"Pacific Northwest Ballet broke all box office records in its nine-year history of performances with an incredible 99% capacity audience for the new Nutcracker
. Twenty-six performances were presented December 1331 to 78,000 people; approximately 16% of Seattle's population!"
PNB press release following 1983 Nutcracker premiere.
"Forget the Space Needle, forget the Ring Cycle, forget Mt. Rainierthis Nutcracker
alone is worth a trip to Seattle. Newsweek
Maurice Sendak (l) and Kent Stowell (r) with Company dancers (l-r) Christopher Stowell, Patricia Barker, Alaina Albertson (Clara), Wade Walthall, and Hugh Bigney (Drosselmeier) during Nutcracker's world premiere curtain call. © David Cooper