Lewisville — As critics sometimes it seems like we are always looking for the weak links in a performance. So it’s always a pleasant surprise when that task proves difficult, as it did Saturday night at LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s (LBT) 24th annual production of The Nutcracker to a sold-out audience at Marcus High School in Flower Mound. In keeping with its family-focused tradition, LBT’s Nutcracker weaved intricate storytelling with spectacular set designs and fanciful choreography that all audience types could appreciate.
The audience was instantly pulled into the action as the families attending Mayor Silberhaus’ Christmas party entered the scene through the aisles acknowledging us as they passed by. Our eyes were then drawn to the richly-decorated stage where the Silberhaus family (Mayor, Frau, Clara and Fritz) are preparing for the festivities. Artistic Director Kelly Lannin’s quick wit and discerning eye kept the story moving and prevented clutter on stage. Traffic jams were avoided with subtle stage entrances/exits and regimented formations. With so many performers onstage, movement was kept to clean chaines, piques and traveling triplets. The adult couples performed tricky waltz steps and nuanced arm movements with a grace you don’t typically see from these characters. Special Guest Ken Wells (Herr Drosselmeyer) got the audience involved as he almost fell into the orchestra pit while seeking out the Silberhaus’ house. He was more senile than mysterious in his actions which suited the younger audience just fine. The festive atmosphere in the auditorium was heightened by Adron Ming and the Lewisville Lake Symphony’s competent rendering of Pyotr Ilyrich Tchaikovsky’s classic score.
What stood out in the first act was the performers’ commitment to their roles. While Claire (Julie Fenske) and her friends danced a sweet adagio number with their dolls the adults stood in the background gesturing to one another while the maids discreetly drank from the wine glasses and the nanny chased Fritz and his friends. Mayor Silberhaus’ (Chuck Denton) over-the-top facial expressions and spirited gesturing set the bar for the other individuals on stage. However, while the heavily layered petticoats and colorful dresses were authentic of the time period, they also made it difficult to see the young dancers’ feet.
LBT’s battle scene is one of the best in the area. Cheeky mice carrying wounded comrades off in stretchers, Drosselmeyer chasing a mouse with rodent repellant and a diva Rat King (Robert Stewart) requiring a plush couch for his death bed are just a few memorable moments. Newcomer Jack Wolff as the Nutcracker Prince was another pleasant surprise. This 14-year-old from Houston is the whole package. Great flexibility, stamina and a commanding stage presence, Wolff is definitely going places. He and Fenske also made a darling couple.
With extremely supple feet, pliable back and innate body movements it’s hard to believe Mackenna Pieper (Snow Queen) is only 15 years old. The energy exuding from her fingertips in a ponche arabesque and the ease in which she executes a one-arm assisted slow pirouette is not something you expect from one so young. With a trusting partner such as Shannon Beacham the Snow pas de deux processed seamlessly. And while the snowflakes fast pointe work was exacting and exciting it was sometimes overshadowed by the powerful sounds of the orchestra chimes.
Guest Artists Sarah Lane (American Ballet Theatre) and Daniel Ulbricht (New York City Ballet) breathed new life into the roles of the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier which has previously been performed by ABT’s Julie Kent and Sascha Radetsky. Lane and Ulbricht executed movement with a powerful punch that kept audiences in suspense. Lane’s incredible control and meticulous arm placement made her lines and spins appear unending. Ulbricht is a fireball on stage. His exploding grande jetes are unworldly and his double tour en l’air into a double pirouette down to the knee was perfection.
The other LBT couples in the second half did a commendable job of matching Lane and Ulbricht’s energy and poise. Ali Honchell and Guest Artist Ruben Gerding (Spanish Chocolate) were a whirlwind of petite jumps, spins and assisted lifts. The Arabian dance was everything viewers have come to expect. Beacham contorted Faith Jones into various shapes before slowly rotating her in a circle. Jones’ Gumby-like frame enabled her to pull her extensions behind her head and practically bend her body in half when arching back in Beacham’s arms. Andre Harrington once again displayed his acrobatic prowess in a number of back handsprings and forward tucks as the Russian Baba. The Chinese were sassy and forceful with their pointe work while Mother Ginger (George Redford) and the Polichinelles were lighthearted as they danced rudimentary steps in soft shoes.
The Walt of the Flowers coupled delicate pointe work with continuously shifting patterns and lively performances by three pairs; Julia Tiller and Beacham, Michelle Lawyer and Blaine Quine and Honchell and Gerding. The group’s movements appeared blurry at some points due to the red lighting reflecting off their pink costumes, but that can be adjusted. The overall effect was still dreamy and ornamental.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com