Pacific Northwest Ballet Review: The Nutcracker December 20, 2021 | Digital
For the second year in a row I find myself watching scenes of Christmas celebrations, winter wonderlands, and candy cane-pillared palaces from my gray IKEA sofa.
No, I can’t enjoy the experience of sitting in red velvet chairs or listening to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score floating up to the second balcony from the orchestra pit… but I’m not at all upset. I have found my own luxury, content to be watching ballet performances curled up with my hands happily wrapped around my coffee cup.
Cherry on top of this holiday season? It’s Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker playing on my television screen, their dancers and musicians filling my home with magic.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker season opened earlier this month at the company’s home theater in Seattle, McCaw Hall. Fortunate for those of us who can’t easily get there, the company has made available to stream a performance recorded on their opening night (well, matinee, really).
And perhaps it was due to first show jitters that the overall energy of the show fluctuates. In general, group sections are well-rehearsed and soloists refined, but there are moments of… insecurity that at times distract from the flow.
Due to the sheer quantity of performances that compose a run of The Nutcracker in comparison to other programs, its large cast size, and despite being a full-length, the principal characters not carrying the weight of an entire ballet, this annual holiday production is often a chance for audience members to see the spotlight focused on dancers that may otherwise not be featured in smaller, repertory pieces.
This lends itself to a variety of casts that temporarily dismantle the linear structure of a ballet company’s traditional artist ranking. I am a true believe that it’s welcome to mix things up once in a while.
Point made is that recently promoted soloist Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan is our Sugar Plum Fairy, one whose reigning tends more toward sweet than elegant. Ryan radiates contagious joy, a quality that was not lost on this reviewer when first seeing her in Rubies. Yet we briefly loose that audience-performer connection when we glimpse hesitancy in her face while preparing for turns; she particularly seems to struggle to find fifth in the upstage-to-downstage pirouette sequence in her solo.
These momentary lapses, though, are what make live performance so unique; the humanity behind the dancers who strive daily for a perfection that is never close enough is one of the aspects that I so love about going to the ballet. And I appreciate that PNB is showing audiences the reality of being an artist, not a touched up version of life that is so prevalent in this current Instagram culture.
Ryan is breathing proof that mishaps do not diminish the level of a craft but rather add to the beauty of it.
Her supporting cast in the Land of Sweets is highlighted by a couple of more veteran dancers whose sure-footedness and stage experience are examples for all who wish to achieve excellence.
Noelani Pantastico is a glamorously astute Peacock bringing just the right amount of sultry to a PG-rated show.
And Leta Biasucci’s presence and precision are as bright as her lemon marzipan costume. (Chapeau for keeping me engaged during what often feels like a really long 2-1/2 minutes.)
Also notable are the Flowers, Amanda Morgan and Cecilia Iliesiu skillfully leading a corps of dancers through ever-changing patterns, all the while drawing attention to their long lines and beautiful disposition. Headlining the waltz is Elle Macy – one of PNB’s newest principals – as Dewdrop, a role that she dances with lightness and grace.
Cherilyn's lifelong passion for ballet has opened the door to the next chapter of her journey. Her strong foundation includes training at the School of American Ballet, being a featured dancer with Hartford Ballet and Carolina Ballet, and being co-director/owner of City Ballet Raleigh. She was granted the Affiliate Teacher Award after successfully completing the ABT National Training Curriculum®. A professional career in the industry along with extensive global travel provide her with a unique set of experiences to draw upon as a journalist and audience member. Cherilyn is excited to be sharing her insight about ballet around the world.