Pacific Northwest Ballet to Refresh Its "Nutcracker"

November 20, 2014

This story originally appeared in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of

This year, Pacific Northwest Ballet says good-bye to its time-honored Nutcracker. Choreographed by founding artistic director Kent Stowell—with sets and costumes designed by the beloved picture book author Maurice Sendak—the unique production has been performed for 31 years and has reached audiences far beyond the Northwest, thanks to a 1986 motion-picture featuring PNB star Patricia Barker.

Next year, in an effort to update, artistic director Peter Boal is bringing in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. According to Boal there are a number of reasons for the decision. In the wake of the recession, PNB had been looking carefully at the economics of its Nutcracker, considering how many individuals return year after year versus those who feel they’ve seen it enough times and might be enticed by something new.

PNB’s Chinese Tiger variation. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

“The Stowell/Sendak production required significant refurbishment, so it seemed that this was the time for something new,” says Boal. PNB will join New York City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and other companies that perform Balanchine’s choreography. However, Boal has partnered with Ian Falconer, author and illustrator of the Olivia children’s book series, to design new sets and costumes.

The leap to the new Nutcracker is logical, given PNB’s identity with Balanchine and Boal’s personal history at New York City Ballet. “Everybody loves the Nutcracker they grew up with,” he says, “and Balanchine’s choreography educates you in musicality, formation, technique and speed. Our dancers love Balanchine, so I think they will relish this opportunity.”

The company will begin setting the new Nutcracker in summer 2015. How audiences will react when the production is unveiled next winter remains to be seen. The company will honor the final performances of the Stowell/Sendak production this holiday season with historical information and lobby presentations—a fitting send-off for a regional classic.