For Seth Orza, Christmas is the Nutcracker. The child of ballet dancers, he can’t really remember a December when he wasn’t watching or performing in a version of Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet. “I was four years old for my first Nutcracker,” he recalled. “If the Nutcracker wasn’t there, Christmas wouldn’t be the same.”
Since joining Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2007, Orza has enjoyed performing in and just looking at the elaborate Nutcracker production designed by Maurice Sendak. With its fanciful interpretation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s fairy tale, complete with dancing mice and briskly marching toy soldiers, the sets and costumes help create a mood of wonder for the audience and the dancers.
But he’s learned not to breath too deeply during the famous snow scene. “Oh, we all get into trouble with the snow,” he said with a laugh. “If you happen to breath some of it in, it tastes horrible!” Since a Prince coughing on his partner lacks the necessary romance, he added, “I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.”
While many PNB fans recognize the handsome principal dancer as the Prince in the company’s Nutcracker, they may not realize that he also the mysterious Drosselmeier and his alter-ego, the Pasha, in several performances.
“I love Drosselmeier because the role demands different things than dancing. It lets me act,” said Orza. Once he puts on the big coat, “I feel like an older man. That costume helps us get into the character: the wig, the make-up, the nose, and the eye patch.”
Since PNB’s version of the Nutcracker was choreographed by founding artistic director and Seattle resident Kent Stowell, Orza also has an opportunity to work with the role’s creator every Christmas.
“Kent is very specific about what he wants for his Drosselmeier,” he explained. In this version, “he wants him to be more buddies with Fritz and the other boys, encouraging their antics.”
Dancing with various children who portray Clara and her younger brother Fritz also changes how the character is perceived by the audience. Every child on stage reacts slightly differently to the scenes, whether it’s the introduction of the life-size dancing “dolls” at the beginning of the party, the rampage of Fritz and boys encouraged by Drosselmeier’s antics, or the final awkward dance when Clara partners the now apologetic old toymaker.
But he still doesn’t know exactly what Clara hears when Drosselmeier whispers into her ear at the end of Act I. “I guess I need to ask Kent that next year,” he said.
The Nutcracker continues at the Seattle Center’s McCaw Hall through Dec. 29 with two performances daily at 1 pm and 5:30 pm, Dec. 26 through Dec. 28, and a final performance at 1 pm on Dec. 29.
The family friendly start times make this a nice afternoon or early evening out for those with children home from school.
For more information, check the PNB website.