I caught Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of Nutcracker recently and loved it. The vivid sets by Maurice Sendak (do kids still read Where the Wild Things Are?), the courtly choreography, and the sumptuously colored costumes completely scuttled my plans to write a screed proposing possible alternate Nutcrackers (like a goth/industrial Nutcracker with occult rituals, caves of cobwebs, and dancers smeared with flammable black body paint). Tchaikovsky's elegant, tuneful score did the job too; impervious to tampering, a sliced 'n' diced suite of Nutcracker music can be played by an ensemble of kazoos and still sound great.

Nutcracker tells a tale of gently evaporating youth; in the opening scenario, young Clara goes to sleep on Christmas Eve, dreams of fantastic creatures, and meets a handsome prince (who eventually sails away), only to wake up several steps closer to womanhood. Whether you consider Clara's adventure a metaphor for lost love or a brightly hued bourgeois elegy for childhood innocence, Nutcracker pulls the heartstrings (mine, at any rate) with a charming corps of kids and regal pageantry missing from childhood today.

Oh, and dress up for this one. Myself, I invoked Music Writer's Prerogative, which permits impoverished scribes like yours truly to commit sartorial sins such as wearing jeans, steel-toed boots, a bolo tie, and a battered black leather vest (what was I thinking?) to any upscale party, concert, celebrity auction, et cetera. All the other audience members, including a fuchsia-haired lip-pierced lass, looked like they worked at Nordstrom, which, along with the kid bouncing up and down on his first-row seat (in time with the music and silently too!), made for superb people-watching. CHRISTOPHER DeLAURENTI

Catch PNB's Nutcracker through Sun Dec 28 (McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St, 441-2424), various times, $17-$94. See www.pnb.org/season/nutcracker/nut-sched.html for a complete schedule.


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Washington Ensemble Theatre presents amber, a sensory installation set in the disco era
In this 30-minute multimedia experience, lights & sounds guide groups as they explore a series of immersive spaces.