If you’ve never seen Pacific Northwest Ballet’s (“PNB”) famous Nutcracker, now is the time. This Seattle tradition – choreographed 31 years ago by the Company’s then artistic director Kent Stowell with vibrant sets by esteemed children’s author Maurice Sendak (“Where the Wild Things Are”) – will be retired when the final curtain comes down. The production is close to my heart because I danced in it hundreds of times growing up.
Stowell created this ballet when his company was young. As his ballet grew in fame, so did his ballet company. When I trained there, PNB was always ranked as one of the top three-to-five companies in the nation. Stowell has said that he wanted this distinctive Nutcracker “to establish our own identity.” One of the traits I admired most in him was that he also wanted his dancers to establish their own identities. We called him Kent, and we loved him for caring so much about us and helping us give our roles personal flair.
One of my favorites was Mother Mouse. This is a solo where the wife of the Mouse King starts the battle by defending her babies and chasing Clara off the stage. Kent told me the essence of what to portray, but he left the steps and mannerisms up to me. This made each performance a unique experience. My baby mice had so much fun backstage as we decided how we would craft the scene that night.
Of course, like most romantic ballets, in the Nutcracker Clara gets the prince. Since this is Meeting Men Monday, I want to chat about that for a moment. I realize the real world isn’t always like a ballet. Last weekend, a friend told me that she was sad this holiday season because she wasn’t in a relationship, and asked for advice. I said that regardless of her dating status, the Christmas lights can sparkle just as bright and time with friends and family can be just as much fun. Life is what you make of it.
I was speaking from personal experience, and the Nutcacker is a reminder. I’ve said that I grew up dancing in it. But what I didn’t mention is that I did not get in to the production for the first four years that I was old enough to audition because I was too tall. The children’s roles in the Stowell/Sendak production have height limitations so they will resemble toys. I got my height early and, as my dad joked, “stubbed out at 5’6’’.” I was so tall in elementary school that one of my best friends recalls, “Katherine was a giant. She looked down on everyone’s heads, even the boys.”
I remember crying every year because I was the only girl in my ballet class who didn’t get to dance in the Nutcracker. I would watch all my friends leave for rehearsals as I was left behind. But there was a lot of good that came from this experience. I refused to let that keep my holidays from being magical. And when I did get in to the production, I appreciated every second more than some who had been performing since day one. I also learned to love just taking ballet class…for four years that was all I had. I’m relating this story, because being cut out of Nutcracker excitement – like going through the holidays without romance – doesn’t mean you can’t still love the holidays. So embrace this truly special season regardless of your relationship status.