Wait, aren't you the artistic director? Why do you have a dressing room?
I am actually going to be in the show the second weekend. I am going to be Drosselmeier in a few performances.
Which one's Drosselmeier again?
He's kind of like a master of ceremonies. He's the godfather of Clara, and he makes the magic happen. He gives her the nutcracker. And then he's there in her dream, making everything grow.
What's more nerve-racking—watching a performance as artistic director or dancing in a performance?
Watching. The stage is oddly comfortable. All the fears go away when you step onstage for some reason. But sitting out front is intimidating because you realize what a big responsibility it is.
You've been in this show before.
I've been doing it for 40 years. I must have done it 600 or 700 times.
This is the first time Seattle's seen George Balanchine's Nutcracker, which you first danced in for New York City Ballet when you were 10 years old. Which roles have you performed?
First I was a party guest. There's Fritz and Fritz's friend, and I was Fritz's friend. Then there's a taller party guest, and I got to be him the next year because I was a few inches taller. Then I was the Nutcracker Prince, also known as the nephew. And then I was the boy who crawls under the magic bed—unseen and uncredited because Balanchine didn't want to give it away. Balanchine wanted the audience to think the bed moved through magic, not the efforts of a teenage boy. Next would be a mouse, a Spanish dancer, a Chinese man, soldier, cavalier, Drosselmeier.
Speaking of mice, what is that behind you?
This is the Mouse King's head.
Looks like multiple Mouse King heads metastasizing.
In Balanchine's Nutcracker, he's always had seven heads. He's never had one gold tooth before. That's our take on him. He has some street cred. And he loses one of those crowns. It gets chopped off by the prince and gets placed on Clara's head.
Do you know how heavy it is?
No, but I think it's annoying—that's what I've heard. The dancer has to wear a bicycle helmet to secure it, and a harness.
How do the dressing rooms at McCaw Hall compare to the dressing rooms at New York City Ballet?
They're newer and cleaner here. It's a bigger theater here. New York doesn't have a lot to offer in terms of space.
You must be so sick of Tchaikovsky. That or you're a Tchaikovsky addict.
I think I know Tchaikovsky pretty well at this point. It's so beautifully written. Balanchine really lets Tchaikovsky tell the story.
In this production, you've moved the story from Germany, where it's usually set, to New England. Why?
That's just me. On a whim, I just wanted to bring it closer to where we are in time and space. It's always been a European story, but I thought, "Why don't we immigrate it to the US?" I was picturing the grand houses of Lenox, Massachusetts. And I wanted to lighten the interiors.
Does PNB hire foot masseuses to hang out backstage? It seems like foot masseuses would be necessary.
Yes! We usually have one or two physical therapists and a massage therapist, too. There's usually a line.