8 things you didn’t know about the Pacific Northwest Ballet

NutBckstg2017 0508

Snowflakes waltz following the Nutcracker and Clara’s battle victory. | Photo by Angela Sterling

Table of Contents

This comeback story is en pointe. After a year and half of hosting ballet class in kitchens and streaming performances, the Pacific Northwest Ballet is back on stage for the first time since the pandemic with “The Nutcracker.”

We learned some fascinating facts about PNB recently that could bring out your inner twinkletoes, even if you’re not a big ballet fan. Here are the eight things you should know about our biggest local ballet company.

It’s considered one of the best in the nation.

What makes a ballet company the best? A combo of factors — like overall expertise, skills, strength, artistic excellence and more, explains Communications Director Gary Tucker.

“We also have our own orchestra and a costume shop onsite. It’s the big package that creates that level of polish and professionalism.”

PNB’s dancers go through as many as 100 pointe shoes per season.

Pointe shoes can break down quickly depending on the amount of stress put on them, the way in which a dancer “customized” them + how sweaty the feet get (gross, but true). In fact, some shows with intense lead role choreography like “Swan Lake” kill shoes after one performance. Many back-ups must be on hand.

To prepare for this, the PNB has its own shoe shop filled with hundreds of pairs of pointe shoes for the full-time dancers to grab as they need.

Side note: Pointe shoes are a fascinating topic all around. Watch a video on the complex fitting process, or check out why ballerinas beat their new pairs against walls.

You may want different seats for different shows.

Each ballet, like all art, is choreographed with a lot of intention — whether that’s to show off the lines of the human body or the dancers’ technical talent. Your favorite parts of each ballet will dictate where you may want to sit.

If you’re an aesthetics-person who likes a good pose, you may want something in the orchestra. For a bonus, aisle seats will guarantee an unobstructed line to the stage for those classic moments.

If you love watching college bands perform during halftime shows, the first few rows on the second tier give views on that formation work.

If you like hidden secrets, the box seats are the only spots with a line of sight on PNB’s orchestra.

Company dancers can get a degree while they’re at PNB.

Because ballet requires so much from the body, most professional dance careers only last about two decades — meaning by 40 years old, most dancers are on the job hunt. To help ease the transition and set their dancers up for success post-pro, the PNB offers Second Stage — a partnership with Seattle University that gives dancers access to classes, mentorship programs, career counseling + grants.

PNB also gives dancers opportunities throughout the year to strengthen their choreographic abilities — sometimes in the form of one-off projects or during its annual Next Step show.

Dancers may learn choreography for a show in as little as 2-3 weeks.

This doesn’t happen all of the time, but with shows like “The Nutcracker” that each company member has performed hundreds of times, the choreography tends to click pretty quickly. Other shows need about six weeks of prep time.

Speaking of choreography, most dancers learn several parts for each show.

For the same reason it’s not good to exercise only one side of your body, it’s not healthy to run the same exact choreography everyday for a month.

To keep dancers safe, most companies have their dancers learn several roles for a show and interchange casting. It’s why you may see a few different Sugar Plum Fairies if you attend multiple performances.

...which means each costume fits multiple dancers.

As previously mentioned, the Pacific Northwest Ballet has its own in-house costuming department that makes sure each costume fits all the dancers it needs to. It’s not unusual for an outfit to have three sets of clasps at once to keep everyone snug.

Another neat fact: The costume shop has a window to the rehearsal area so the alterers can account for choreography in the designs. It could be hard to hold someone above your head with a tall hat, for example.

Being a full-time ballerina is a literal workout.

The real magic of ballet is arguably making very complex and strenuous choreography look effortless, but “floating” requires massive amounts of strength.

Full-time dancers at PNB begin their days with a 9:15 a.m. company class — where dancers work on strength and train their muscle memory — and end their days at 6 p.m. after rehearsal. It’s equivalent to working out at the gym for a living.

But lastly, if you’ve never seen a performance, the best thing to pay attention to is...

...yourself.

“[Ballet is] like looking at a painting,” Tucker said. “The most important thing is if you enjoyed it. Did it speak to you? Don’t worry about studying the brushstrokes; let the performance wash over you.”

More from SEAtoday