Dallas — Blink and you might miss Grandfather aiming his toy rifle at hapless guests, Fritz swinging a dead rat by the tail, or the Fat Girl stamping a doll to death. So rambunctious is the Stahlbaum’s Christmas Eve party it’s impossible to follow all the antics.
Artistic director Ben Stevenson’s version of The Nutcracker— performed by Texas Ballet Theater Friday night at the Winspear Opera House, where it continues through Dec. 7 before moving to Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall—turns Act 1 into a Victorian funhouse. All the better that the setting is grand and the costumes sumptuous: the women decked out in flowing gowns of jewel-colored hues, men in black frock coats, little girls in flounced skirts and ringlets.
In one delightful scene, the wind-up dolls Columbine and Harlequin pop out of a gigantic “cabbage” trimmed with carrots and turnips. Clara and Fritz are so enchanted they mimic the dancing dolls, as do the smaller children. Fritz gets his comeuppance when he jerks the soldier doll’s arm and the soldier doll responds by swinging his arm so forcibly that Fritz reels back and hits the ground.
For a tale aimed primarily at children, the one disappointment is that Fritz and Clara are not played by real 7- and 11-year-olds, but by adults. Yes, Dustin Geradine (Fritz) can leap like a firecracker, and Alexandra Farber (Clara) skirts the stage on nimble feet, but neither can convince us they are children giddy with the promise of surprise.
The guests gone, 12 angels glide as smooth as ice skaters and revolve like figures in a music box. The clock strikes midnight, the tree grows to gigantic heights, and Clara and Drosselmeyer face scampering mice. The Nutcracker leaps in, and the battle begins. Cannons roar, toy soldiers march in smart formation, mice jump on the backs of their foe, and the King Rat and the Nutcracker go at it with swords. Clara saves the day with a well-aimed slipper.
After so much mayhem, nothing could be more welcome than the transfer to the quiet grandeur of the Land of the Snow. As the Snow Queen, Leticia Oliveira is perfection—delicate and precise down to the soft flutter of her wrists and fingers and tilt of her head. The Snow Prince (Carl Coomer) lifts her again and again, and she seems to exist in some exalted plain. The Snowflakes breeze in with silky leaps and turns, dashing in and out as the Snow Queen and Prince rush though their ranks in a heady, exultant flurry. It’s a beautiful scene, capturing the magic of a snowfall in a grand forest, and made all the more magical to see how it enchants Clara and the Nutcracker Prince.
As the guest of the Kingdom of Sweets, Clara watches with delight as one after another divertissement speeds by. She marvels to watch the spicy Spanish dances; an exotic and very supple Arabian (Katelyn Clenaghan) and attentive partner (Alexander Kotelenets); Chinese men (Drake Humphreys and Joamanual Velazquez) brandishing pole and machete and cartwheeling between each other’s legs; the always delectable Mirlitons (Allisyn Hsieh Caro, Heather Kotelenets and Marlin Alimanov) and the explosive Gopak (Simon Wexler).
Building anticipation, the Waltz of the Flowers rushes and flows with big sweeping leaps as the lead Flower (Betsy McBride) soars past with airy grace. Even without the support of Adam Boreland she barely seems to touch ground.
That sets the stage for the grand finale: the pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince. Carolyn Judson captures the sweetness of a fairy, but is rather too tentative, while Jiyan Dai can soar though space, but once on ground, is a blank slate.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.