PNB corps dancer Amanda Morgan from Tacoma also landed the lead of Clara when she was younger.
PNB corps dancer Amanda Morgan from Tacoma also landed the lead of Clara when she was younger.
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“The Nutcracker” is often an introduction to classical ballet for audience members, given its status as a holiday tradition and ample opportunities to see it. For at least nine Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers, it also happens to be the first story ballet they ever appeared in.

The Queen Anne News recently spoke with three dancer — all native Pacific Northwesterners — about what their early experiences dancing in Nutcracker were like, what it’s like to return to the production every year, and what keeps them excited about coming back?

These professional ballet dancers were yesterday’s Claras and Fritzes — the lead female and male roles for children.

Principal dancer Ben Griffiths from Boise attended his first Nutcracker by Ballet Idaho with his grandparents when he was just two. He said he fell in love with the ballet’s Act II, in which Clara visits the Land of the Sweets with her prince, and its characters. That sparked Griffiths’ interest in ballet. His parents enrolled him in classes at age 8.

“I was mostly in Act I [as Fritz], so I wasn’t participating in the part of the production that I was drawn to,” Griffiths said, “but being part of the whole production was exciting.” 

PNB corps dancers Amanda Morgan from Tacoma and Madison Rayn Abeo from Seattle  landed the lead, Clara, in Nutcracker productions by their schools. This was at Dance Theater Northwest for Morgan and Cornish Preparatory Dance for Abeo.

“I liked doing Clara, but I liked doing anything in that Nutcracker because we really got to dance. There weren’t that many students,” Morgan said.

“I love coming back to Nutcracker every year. I like the familiarity of it. I don’t necessarily feel like that by the end of the run. This time of the run, I’m always excited for it,” Griffiths said.

PNB will produce 33 evening and matinee performances through Dec. 28 at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St. Tickets are available at pnb.org/nutcracker.

“It’s great seeing younger people debuting roles,” Griffiths said. “Nutcracker is a time when people get their first opportunities.”

This goes not just for children from PNB School, but also for company members. Morgan will be performing the solo Arabian “Coffee” dance, as well as the Spanish “Hot Chocolate” pas de deux for the first time this year.

Of all the Nutcracker roles she’s danced, Abeo’s favorite has been the first Snowflake.

“It starts to transport you to a magical place,” she said. Abeo aspires to dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy some day. “It’s magical and beautiful and something I’d like to do in the future.”

Griffiths said that he’s still doing his favorite roles, Candy Cane and Cavalier.

“Cavalier is the most principal [male] part in the ballet and really hard,” he said. “It’s an accomplishment after you finish it. Candy Cane is more fun. I love mastering the double-circles with the hoop.”

There is something for everyone, dancers and audience members alike, in PNB’s George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.” The choreographer, who first mounted the ballet for his New York City Ballet company in 1954, demonstrated not only his choreographic skill, but also mastery of stagecraft.