Backstage at Stowell & Sendak's Nutcracker!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

When I was three-years-old I saw my first Nutcracker. It wasn't at a live theater though, it was a VHS recording off TV! Pacific Northwest Ballet made a motion picture in 1986 of their version of The Nutcracker, which was televised, and my parents recorded it for one reason or another. This movie was everything to me. I was immediately obsessed with pointe shoes, tutus, costumes, and sets. To me, this version was "the normal Nutcracker" because it was all I knew. I remember listening to my ballet peers talk about "Spanish" and "Arabian" variations and wondering what the heck they were talking about! The point I'm getting to is that this Nutcracker, the Stowell & Sendak version, was the reason I fell in love with ballet.

When my mom heard that PNB would be retiring the Stowell & Sendak version after this 2014 season, she booked us flights and tickets to see the show! For years we'd talked about seeing it live, so this was our last chance! (click on pictures to see them bigger)
Fifth position outside the ballet school :) I actually took an adult class here last May!

McCaw Hall with the Space Needle in the background.

My mom and me with the iconic Sendak illustrated Nutcracker.

We actually went to two shows while we were there! On Tuesday afternoon we went to the regular version and then Wednesday afternoon we went to the Nutty version.

At the Tuesday afternoon show we had center orchestra seats seven rows from the stage. 

Seeing all of these illustrations in person for the first time was so exciting!

Festive orchestra pit!
Ze program.

Being seven rows from the stage turned out to be a little too close for our preferences. We couldn't see the floor design, which, to me, is such a big part of the set. And the sound from the orchestra is a bit muted that close to the stage. But, I do enjoy being close enough that I can hear the dancers move and really see their expressions.

I won't get into crazy detail with my thoughts on seeing the show live for the first time (since I want to get on with the fun backstage stuff :) but I wasn't sure how the movie version would translate on stage - the movie version isn't just a couple cameras filming a live production, it's an actual movie that breaks the 180 degree viewing barrier - and I was shocked to see how elaborate the sets were! Almost every piece is interactive, so a lot of what happens in the movie really does happen on stage! Super impressive, I think.

So my mom's cousin and her husband both play in the pit orchestra for PNB, so that's how we got our hookup with a backstage tour! I couldn't even believe how lucky I was to be seeing all of this up close. I've stared at these set designs for I don't know how many hours over the course of watching the movie version my entire life, and now to be standing right in front of them! And knowing it's all going away in a week?! It was almost too much!

Stagehand, Don, took us and a family with four little girls backstage. He was an open book and happy to delve into all the details of the production. I was speechless!!
Thinking "I wanna dance on it! Can I dance on it?! Maybe if I just put my foot here?" :)

Don explaining to us the "in and out" system with the sets.

Then it turned out we COULD walk on the stage! I was playing it cool on the outside (I think) but inside I was flipping out!

The little girls wanted to dance during the tour. I was torn between hanging with the adults or the kids...

Don explaining marley dance floors and how this one is painted for Nutcracker.

Okay, I had to dance a little!

Close up of the painted marley

When then went over to stage left where all the props and sets are placed to be brought on stage. Don took us to the Peacock cage first, which I was not expecting to even see let alone get to SIT IN!

The peacock has always been my favorite variation, so this was super duper extra exciting for me. I kept thinking about what 5-year-old Jana would think of 30 year old Jana right then :)

Ships from the Act II entrance! Clara and her prince ride in the tall one with the waves (below) "splashing" in front.

The moving waves!
Jumping back a bit - guns from Act I
The box the soldiers enter from.

Some of the stagehands have had a harder time staying hidden than others :)
And finally, Clara's bed from the opening and ending. They refer to it as the "rocket set" because of how fast they have to get it on stage for the ending.

Wrapping up our tour. You can see Clara's bed in the background a bit better.

The next afternoon we arrived for the Nutty show - the final Sendak/Stowell Nutty show and my first Nutty show! I wasn't sure how crazy and funny things would get, but O M G it was so hilarious!! Here's an article that includes some pictures from the show to give you an idea of what all went on. There were so many layers of purposeful humor that you couldn't possibly catch it all. So. Great!
We were five rows back in orchestra left this time. Definitely too close, but hearing the dancers giggle and yelp (snowflakes!) during the show was totally worth it.

And there it was: Carla Korbes as grown up Clara! She was stunning, you guys!!

I think I'm still riding the high from this trip (I got home on Christmas day!) and couldn't wait to share this experience with you all! I also took some video from the backstage tour which you can see here!

If you grew up watching this Nutcracker, please comment below! And if you've never seen this Nutcracker, here is a link to buy it!!

I hope you all had a fabulous holiday!! Happy New Year!


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