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PNB starts to show a little of its ‘Nutcracker’ changes

Ian Falconer at work Credit: Pacific Northwest Ballet

With performances of its dramatically revised Nutcracker only two months away, the Pacific Northwest Ballet has just provided fans with an intimate discussion and a glimpse of how it will look.

A small crowd of ballet enthusiasts, both young and older, gathered at Seattle Center’s Phelps Center on Tuesday evening to hear PNB’s Artistic Director Peter Boal and his collaborators talk about the ballet’s new Nutcracker — the first in more than a generation, which will premiere this November.

When Boal began thinking about a new Nutcracker production four years ago, he enlisted the help of children’s book author/illustrator and scenic designer Ian Falconer. The author is best known for his Olivia books, beloved among children and their parents since debuting in 2000 and the winners of a long series of awards.

Boal’s predecessor, Kent Stowell, had chosen children’s book author Maurice Sendak as the scenic designer for his 1982 Nutcracker production. Similarly, Boal wanted a contemporary artist familiar to 21st century families and theater-goers to design the sets and costumes for the choreography he had selected — George Balanchine’s version of the Nutcracker.

A couple of the costumes for the new production
A couple of the costumes for the new production

Coincidentally, Falconer says, he “grew up watching” Balanchine’s Nutcracker in New York City, where it’s long been performed, and Falconer has worked with major ballet and opera companies in the U.S. and Europe. 

Olivia is a precocious little girl pig, who loves fashion, opera and, in fact, ballet. Boal has told City Arts Magazine that he and his wife enjoyed the Olivia books when their children were young.

A sketch by Ian Falconer of Drosselmeier with Clara and the Nutcracker
A sketch by Ian Falconer of Drosselmeier with Clara and the Nutcracker

Boal and Falconer soon embarked on a collaboration with the designer, initially producing character and costume sketches. For the first act, a festive party scene, Falconer looked to the past for inspiration. “It’s set in 1830s New England, so I studied images of fashions from the era [for the costumes],” he said. On Tuesday, PNB shared Falconer’s sketches for major characters like Drosselmeier, the uncle who brings a nutcracker to his niece for Christmas, and the mice who come to life and battle the nutcracker in his niece’s dream.

Though the new Nutcracker and the excitement it’s creating took center stage on Tuesday, several of the youngest balletomanes (and one older one) in attendance did not forget about Falconer’s other work, carrying their Olivia books in hopes the author would sign. As the crowd was leaving and a small group of fans approached with books in hand, Boal said to his collaborator,  “They’re heading for you.”

All images courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

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