Monday, December 2, 2019

I Found a Reason to Smile

Pacific Northwest Ballet company members in George Balanchine's 'The Nutcracker'
photo @ Angela Sterling

I really envy people who get to see Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Nutcracker” for the very first time.

(To be accurate, it’s PNB’s production of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker,” created for New York City Ballet in 1954 and first presented in Seattle in 2015.)

Back to my envy.

I was one of thousands of people who flocked to Marion Oliver McCaw Hall this past weekend for the show’s annual opening performances. Unlike most of my fellow audience members, I’ve seen some version of this classic ballet dozens of times over the years. Partly, that’s because it’s my job to see things. But like many of us, this time of year I’m searching for experiences of awe and wonder; for sense memories of what it means to be our fullest selves.
Always stunning PNB principal dancer Noelani Pantastico
photo @ Angela Sterling

Watching little girls dressed up in their holiday finery, hearing them gasp as the curtain goes up and they see Clara, Fritz and a holiday party for the first time? Well, that’s what I envy: their surprise and delight, their sheer wonder at the extravagance of it all.

So, every year I return to PNB and---to paraphrase a friend and fellow arts writer—I open my heart chakra, hoping to experience some new delight. This year it came in the form of a young dancer named Adam Abdi, who is cast in the role of Fritz, Clara’s bratty younger brother.
That's Adam Abdi in center stage, with the red tie, holding Madison Taylor's hand
PNB photo @ Angela Sterling

If you don’t know anything about “Nutcracker,” suffice it to say that in Act I, Fritz and Clara’s parents host a Christmas party. An odd gentleman named Drosselmeier arrives and presents Clara with a nutcracker that later evolves into an animate creature who vanquishes some invasive rats. Or mice. Some type of rodent infestation.

Back to Adam/Fritz.

As I said, I’ve seen a load of Nutcracker productions and rafts of ballet students performing roles that range from candy canes and angels to the flock of Polichinelles who emerge from under Mother Ginger’s voluminous skirts. Usually the focus is on the student cast as Clara; Marissa Luu was impressive on opening night. But Adam Abdi stole the show, and my heart.

Abdi infused Balanchine’s 65 year old choreography with fresh verve. When he grabbed the nutcracker from his sister’s arms and cantered around the stage, he was the epitome of the jealous sibling exacting a moment of revenge. But Abdi is more than a budding actor. The kid has all the makings of a dancer.

He swung his legs in wide, graceful arcs, his toes pointed. Leading a gaggle of boys, his imaginary pony ride was full of joy and timed well to Tchaikovsky’s score (performed with typical brio by the PNB orchestra). Even when Miles Pertl, as Fritz’s father, scooped him up off the floor at the end of the party, Abdi’s Fritz kicked up a furious, and realistic, storm.
PNB Principal Dancer Leta Biasucci soars as the Sugar Plum Fairy
photo @ Angela Sterling

This year’s opening night cast offered the usual great performances from PNB company members. I particularly enjoyed Noelani Pantastico as an enigmatic Peacock (officially, she's dancing a section called Coffee), Elizabeth Murphy’s sparkling Dewdrop and Leta Biasucci’s sprightly Sugar Plum Fairy.
PNB principal dancer Elizabeth Murphy is a stunning Dewdrop
photo @ Angela Sterling

But I left McCaw Hall with visions not of sugar plums dancing in my head, but of Adam Abdi standing center stage, beaming out at the audience. I hope he will keep dancing, because this boy was born for the stage.

I wonder if that’s what somebody said when Peter Boal once danced that very same role?


  1. I had the most wonderful experience of attending the PNB performance of the Nutcracker . . . twice!!!. . . last year. My beautiful, non-biological grandaughter was cast in the role of Clara, and my other beautiful non-biological grandaughter was a polichinelle (sp?). I have seen the Nutcracker many times as I live within minutes of the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. Never have I seen such an amazing production. Literally brought me to tears. Do Not Miss This incredible production in the most beautiful McCaw Hall!

  2. I couldn't agree more. Adam is a hometown talent that is worth following and watching. A natural born dancer.

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