A New View of Nutcracker

Nutcracker1Well it was indeed a weekend to remember. Kicked off with a well-matched lineup of three awesome bands on Friday night, parts of my family braved the crowds at Steven’s Pass for four feet of fresh pow while those of us who prefer not to sink to our necks in the soft stuff stayed in town for PNB’s Nutcracker. For my four-year old, it was the first time participating in the Christmas tradition. (Actually, I think she went once before when we had family in town. I’m not sure because my memories of those days are fuzzy. But if she did, she nursed through the whole thing, so this was definitely the first time she watched it.)

We made a day of it and had lunch at Savor and ballerina cupcakes at intermission. When the cannons fired in the battle against the Mouse King, my daughter jumped in surprise. (Okay, so did I. I always do.) I am certain that the caged peacock has made a permanent impression on her little brain. For the rest of her life, “exotic beauty” will be unconsciously defined by that dance.

But enough about her, let’s talk about me for a while. Once upon a time, I never missed a rep and was familiar with the individual dancers. I knew who danced which kinds of roles. But Peter Boal took over PNB right around the same time we started family-building, and even though I love love love what he’s done with the place, I haven’t been able to get out and support PNB these past few years like I used to.

So in my head, the peacock in Act Two is still the sensuous PG-13 bird that Ariana Lallone used to dance. It was remarkable to see the same dance and feel the bitter resentment of a caged animal instead of the barely suppressed sensuality of a wild thing.

To me, ballet is synonymous with PNB, so in my mind, all lead roles belong to the statuesque Patricia Barker, who retired from PNB years ago. But this weekend, Kylee Kitchen’s performance of Clara gave me a completely different experience of the character. Very early in the performance, there was a moment when Kitchens looked like a younger version of the prima ballerina, but she was wrapped in the gossamer covering of the ingénue. Paired with Andrew Bartee, the couple gave off a feeling of youth discovering first love. Where Barker was the young Clara’s fantasy of herself as a fully developed adult, (with Nutcracker Princes the shadowy figures of imagination, fading into the background) Kitchens and Andrew Bartee were images from Clara’s near future.

The Prince made a couple fumbles, as young lovers often do, yet there was a sweetness to the final pas de deux that I had missed in a dozen or more previous, more polished performances. I was charmed by this youthful new Nutcracker.

Nutcracker2

But when the nutcracker’s giant jaws slammed shut over the final scene in Clara’s bedroom, I got the shivers. Exactly like the last dozen times.

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