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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.