For many dancers, performing in some version of The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition—albeit an inescapable, monthlong one that can quickly grow tedious. But for Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Noelani Pantastico, it’s a welcome return to her roots. After an 11-year career with PNB, where she annually performed Kent Stowell and Maurice Sendak’s fantastical adaptation, she left to join Les Ballets de Monte Carlo—a company with no classical Nutcracker. “I did miss it,” she admits. When she returned to PNB last fall, seven years later, the company had just traded the Stowell/Sendak production for George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Pantastico was pleasantly surprised to discover her muscle memory kicked in—from her training days at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, which also performs the Balanchine version. “I remembered things from when I was a teenager,” she says. “I was coached by Darla Hoover, and it’s ingrained in the body.” At the end of last month, Pantastico began her PNB Nutcracker run, alternating among leading roles like the Sugar Plum Fairy, Dewdrop and Marzipan.
Training: Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet; Pacific Northwest Ballet School
Performance: PNB, 1997–2008 and 2015–present; Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, 2008–2015
Her favorite role in the Stowell/Sendak production “It sounds so cliché, but Clara. When you’re a ballet dancer, you grow up with The Nutcracker, and you graduate to roles. It was a comforting role. I have very fond memories of coming into my own, in a safe way, as a ballerina. It was still very difficult to do, but you don’t get the chance to repeat a role that many times in your career.”
Dancing Balanchine’s Nutcracker for the first time with PNB “Originally, Peter [Boal, artistic director] had cast me for Sugar Plum and Marzipan, and then my name went up for Dewdrop, as well. Dewdrop was difficult because I hadn’t done a lot of that stuff—fouettés, jumping that I used to be known for when I was younger—in seven years. I was fighting my way back technically.”
Her pre-show rituals “I always get there a couple of hours early. I try to be finished with my lunch three hours before the show. Preparation is key: managing your shoes, your sleep, if you can. Even as far as managing the food that I have at home for the week. I’ll prepare things. But at the same time, not going too crazy with it. I would get so obsessive, and if something didn’t go right, it would irk me. Be open about things happening and changing. Find a balance.”