Updated May 8, 2012 - 12:21 pm
Maurice Sendak remembered for more than his children's books in Seattle
Maurice Sendak and Kent Stowell on stage at Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcrack premiere curtain call. (Image courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet)
Author Maurice Sendak is known by most for his award-winning children's books, most notably "Where the Wild Things Are," but the author also left his mark on Seattle, designing the sets and costumes for Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of The Nutcracker.
Former Pacific Northwest Ballet Artistic Director Kent Stowell told 97.3 KIRO FM Seattle's Morning News that when he first approached Sendak in 1981 with the opportunity to design the sets, he wasn't so sure.
"I'm not sure that he even liked ballet," said Stowell, "and the Nutcracker had the aura of being a kiddie show."
While Sendak did write many highly-acclaimed children's books, including "Chicken Soup With Rice," "One Was Johnny," "Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue," "Outside Over There" and "Brundibar," Stowell said he didn't call himself a "children's author."
"He was not thrilled to be called a children's book author. He's a writer and an illustrator and what he's focused on is children," said Stowell. "He has great insight to young people."
A quote from Sendak in 1984, said he was flattered being offered the opportunity, but wondered, "who in the world needed another Nutcracker?"
"My immediate reaction to the request that I design Nutcracker was negative," said Sendak. "My reasons for saying no were plentiful."
Stowell told Sendak he was interested in going back through the story with him, and they could start developing a new production from scratch.
"That's what sold him on it," said Stowell. "He wanted to do a version that had a sense of reality to it instead of a sense of false glamour."
"I liked him immediately for not wanting me to do Nutcracker for all the obvious reasons but rather because he wished me to join him in a leap into the unknown," Sendak once said of Stowell. "He suggested we abandon the predictable Nutcracker and find a fresh version."
"His point was that kids are much more astute about life than we think they are," said Stowell.
The two worked on developing the story and characters for about a year and a half, and Sendak then delivered on his set and costume ideas.
"He came in with the set and costumes and said, 'Will this work with what we've been talking about?'" said Stowell. "Of course we were all thrilled with it."
The Stowell-Sendack Nutcracker premiered in 1983. In its first season, it broke all PNB's box office records, with 99 percent audience attendance at 26 shows.
"Forget the Space Needle, forget the Ring Cycle, forget Mt. Rainier-this Nutcracker alone is worth a trip to Seattle," Newsweek wrote of the show that has now been running at Pacific Northwest ballet for 29 years.
Listen to Kent Stowell talk about Maurice Sendak on Seattle's Morning News:
By JAMIE GRISWOLD, MyNorthwest.com Editor
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Jamie Skorheim, MyNorthwest.com Editor
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