Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Vibrant New Nutcracker

Over Thanksgiving Weekend we went to see the Pacific Northwest Ballet company’s new Nutcracker, with author/illustrator Ian Falconer (Olivia the Pig) filling the role of artistic director.

Falconer’s designs brought a vibrant energy to the sets and the costumes that I don’t think I’ve seen in a Nutcracker production before. Each dancer beamed out from the stage, embodying the snowflakes, flowers, peacock, and dessert treats that a child might dream of on Christmas Eve.

As a costumer and sewist, I eagerly devoured and analyzed all of the dresses, tutus, and sparkles as the dancers came out. Being able to appreciate the work that went into the costumes added a new dimension to my Nutcracker experience.

The PNB blog has a beautiful side-by-side gallery of Falconer’s illustrations and the final costumes.

Images Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet, Photos © Angela Sterling.

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Pacific Northwest Ballet guest artist Uko Gorter as Drosselmeier and PNB School student Isabelle Rookstool as Clara in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. PNB’s production features all new sets and costumes designed by children’s author and illustrator Ian Falconer (Olivia the Pig) and runs November 27 – December 28, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling.

Readers of Olivia the Pig will recognize her iconic red & white stripes on both Clara and Uncle Drosselmeyer. This immediately identifies Clara as the protagonist (and Drosselmeyer as having a connection to her story) and you never lose sight of her in the crowd of children at the Christmas Party.

My fashion history is a bit weak, so I can’t pinpoint the era of the fashions. It looked somewhere between Edwardian and Victorian as I was getting hints of Pride & Prejudice from the men’s coat tails and bits of American Civil War-era from the women’s skirts & sleeves.

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Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancer Elle Macy in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. PNB’s production features all new sets and costumes designed by children’s author and illustrator Ian Falconer (Olivia the Pig) and runs November 27 – December 28, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling.

I’m not used to seeing this much skin on a ballet dancer. Most peacocks in The Nutcracker appear in full-body leotards with a full feathered tail. This costume evokes Disney’s Princess Jasmine and belly dancing costumes. As a costume, it reminded me of modern dance more than ballet, and I like that. The bare legs and torso showed off this dancer’s strength. You could see her muscle tone from our seats.

This report from KUOW features a close-up photo of the peacock’s headdress.

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Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Elizabeth Murphy as the Sugar Plum Fairy in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. PNB’s production features all new sets and costumes designed by children’s author and illustrator Ian Falconer (Olivia the Pig) and runs November 27 – December 28, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling.

The Sugar Plum Fairy has a huge following. She was on a lot of marketing materials for this production. Her music is used in so many holiday films, ads, and concerts.  This shade of purple is spectacular. She is not the only purple Sugar Plum Fairy, but traditionally she is clothed in pink. In her final dance, the tulle skirt is swapped out for a tutu. I also want to comment on the little angles in the background – their stiff conical skirts concealed the children’s feet so they looked like they were flying through the fog.

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Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in the snow scene from George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™, choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. PNB’s new production of The Nutcracker, featuring sets and costumes designed by Ian Falconer (Olivia the Pig) runs November 27 – December 28, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling.

There are at least 20 snowflakes in this piece. That is A LOT of costumes to make. I was captivated by the skirt layers that floated with their jumps and steps, and sparkled with the right amount of icy shine. Again, check out the KUOW report for some close-up shots of the snowflake costumes.

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Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancer Amanda Clark with company dancers in a scene from George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. PNB’s production features all new sets and costumes designed by children’s author and illustrator Ian Falconer (Olivia the Pig) and runs November 27 – December 28, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling.

Their tutus are candy doilies. I cannot get over this fantastic design choice. It makes their identity as candy so much clearer than a regular tulle tutu would.

Oh, but the flowers and dew drop are my absolute favorite.

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Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Laura Tisserand as Dewdrop, with company dancers in the Waltz of the Flowers from George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. PNB’s production features all new sets and costumes designed by children’s author and illustrator Ian Falconer (Olivia the Pig) and runs November 27 – December 28, 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling.

The gradated petals looked so soft and so much more interesting than solid colors (sorry Sugar Plum Fairy). Each petal moves slightly independently of the others as they dancers cross the stage. According to their “by the numbers” blog post 697 petals were sewn for these costumes. The seafoam green of the dew drop is one of my favorite colors, but I still like flower designs better. Again, the KUOW article includes more pictures of the flower petals under construction.

I am curious to know why two of the flowers are yellow-orange when the others are coral-red.

To see why I fell in love with these costumes, watch this clip from the PNB’s YouTube Channel.


 

I think Ian Falconer’s costume designs might have out-shown the dancers. It is a testament to Falconer’s vibrant artistic vision that I can’t remember much except the costumes. Which isn’t to imply the dancers were bad, quite the opposite. The dancers are the ones who brought these costumes to life on the stage. Their skilled performances gave the costumes movement, ensured the sequins caught in the light, and the tulle floated just right.

Is the Nutcracker part of your holiday traditions? What are your favorite costumes from ballet or theater?

For more images of their costumes, check out: PNB’s By The Numbers, King 5’s report and photo gallery, and the Seattle Time’s review. And if you live near Seattle, make sure this show is on your list next year.

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11 thoughts on “Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Vibrant New Nutcracker

  1. Fun! It’s interesting to see new designs as I’m beginning the process of creating a new Mother Ginger costume for a local ballet company for this coming December.

  2. Thanks for this great post! I’d heard PNB was changing out the sets this year; I’ve seen the Sendak version several times but don’t go every year. Now I want to see these costumes! And wouldn’t it be amazing to be a fly on the wall in those costume shops?

  3. I didn’t see the show, but I did get the chance to see the new costumes, and those flower skirts are truly sweet. It is always a major planning process to make a new production from scratch; creating that many new costumes for a cast that huge takes a lot of time AND a lot of fabric ordering and dyeing. Add the huge number of performances, and while you’re doing that math, keep in mind they don’t have back up costumes. It’s one per person. It gets ruined, it gets repaired. Their shop does amazing work, I only wish I was good enough.

    Quality tulle is a hard thing to find. In those quantities, stunning.

    Now and then they have open houses; keep your eye open and jump when you get the chance.

  4. Those costumes were gorgous! I wish I could have seen the ballet. My dream was allways to design costumes for the stage.
    My mother took me to see the Nutcracker every Christmas as a child. Now she is taking her grandchildren.

  5. “I am curious to know why two of the flowers are yellow-orange when the others are coral-red.”

    Not sure if you ever got your answer, but the two flowers are different colors to differentiate them as Demi-Soloist Flowers from the main Flower corps 🙂

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