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The godmother of PNB's "Nutcracker" costumes
Seattle Times staff reporter
Thirty spritely dancers stand in pairs, bowing to one another, eyes trained in concentration. It's mid-November, and they're rehearsing the party scene as Tchaikovsky's notes float softly from the grand piano in the corner of the spacious studio.
Legwarmers, tank tops, T-shirts and leotards hug the dancers' bodies. The elaborate "Nutcracker" costumes — from Drosselmeier's multilayered coat to the toy soldiers' stately uniforms — wait patiently in the wings.
All told, there are about 195 outfits of varying shapes and sizes in the PNB production of the "Nutcracker," which opens tonight and runs through Dec. 28. The fanciful costumes and vivid sets were designed in 1983 by celebrated children's book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak. Former PNB co-artistic director Kent Stowell choreographed the production.
"Nutcracker," Pacific Northwest Ballet, today-Dec. 28, McCaw Hall, Seattle Center; $18-$102 (206-441-2424 or www.pnb.org).
In preparation for the annual extravaganza, 18 pairs of trained hands measured, cut, sewed, ironed and fit an array of tutus, vests, jackets and coats, said costume-shop manager Larae Hascall. She's been with PNB since 1983, the same year that the current "Nutcracker" costumes were created. "I didn't really work with Mr. Sendak that much," Hascall said. "I was a stitcher at that time." Hascall, a seamstress then, took over as manager in 1987.
Prior to the show's opening, members of the costume shop boxed up 20 large crates carrying clothes, hats, make-up, mouse heads and supplies to be sent over to McCaw Hall.
Some of the pieces, like the brown wool jackets worn by the fight mice, are originals and date back 22 years, Hascall said. But none the rainbow-colored nylon-lycra unitards and leotards used for peacock costumes have survived the decades. "The stretch stuff doesn't wear in the same way."
Hascall preserves what she can, retiring old Clara tutus by using them for ballerina dolls, for instance.
"Nutcracker" by the numbers
Performances for the public: 36
Performances for schools: 3
Height of Mouse King: 27 feet
Weight of Christmas tree: 950 pounds
Age of youngest dancers: 8 years
Parent volunteers: 70
Most of the costumes receive small makeovers as parts begin to wear and fray. So, although the bright red soldier coats retain their original fabric, they've been relined.
Tutus reign as the most difficult costumes to care for because they've got so many hoops and layers, said Hascall, sitting in her second-floor office overlooking a small studio where a dozen students in maroon leotards pranced on their pink pointe shoes.
Mouse heads, most of which travel in their own crate, also don't seem to wear well.
"All the heads have been remade except for prologue mouse king, which is original, but heavily refurbished," Hascall said. "Next year he'll be rebuilt."
The tiger boy costume lives in a nearly 7-foot-tall case originally built for a bass. With triangular irises and tusk-like claws, the furry brown creature closely resembles the monsters of Sendak's beloved "Where the Wild Things Are."
"Tiger boy received a major refurbishment this year," Hascall said. "He got all his clothes cleaned and his feet redone. He got some new paint on him to give him some character back. He was starting to look kind of flat."
Although she's in charge of the nearly 200 costumes for a 39-performance run of "Nutcracker," it'll still be a smaller job than managing the pieces while touring the production, which she did years ago.
"I don't miss that," Hascall said.
Judy Chia Hui Hsu: 206-464-3315 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company