Richardson — As the hustle and bustle of the Christmas shopping season begins, so does the whirlwind of holiday productions. Saturday afternoon in the lobby of the Eisemann Center in Richardson resembled the packed malls, as a full house of patrons milled about, purchasing tickets, souvenirs, and concessions before Chamberlain Performing Arts took the stage for The Nutcracker.
Act One takes the audience to a chilly December evening as everyone is preparing for the Stahlbaum’s annual extravagant Christmas party for guests of all ages. Intricate costumes deliver a feast of color, and the performers’ enthusiasm permeates through the auditorium. The party is centered mostly on the children, with gifts and delights, courtesy of Herr Drosselmeyer (Joshua Coleman). Clara Stahlbaum (Molly Cooke) receives a Nutcracker doll from Drosselmeyer, which is subsequently broken by her mischievous brother, Fritz (played by an adorable Brian Tseng). A fun time is had by all, but sadly the evening’s festivities must end.
Chamberlain slips in some sweet surprises within the usual party scene. The choice to make Coleman a younger Dross, instead of dressing him in the usual elderly fashion, brings an intriguing touch to the mysterious magician. A well-rehearsed children’s dance brings a nice surprise to a scene that can easily get out of hand. In a nice twist, the parents enjoy a couple of charming dances with the children.
Luke Yee delivers an astonishing performance as the Soldier Doll, and his growth in the company is quite evident. Watching these young dancers mature in the technique year after year proves to be a rewarding experience.
Later, when the clock strikes midnight, all things mystical manifest themselves. Mice, rats, and their ruler the Rat King (Chris Dorsey) invade the Stahlbaum home. But Drosselmeyer conjures his own force, an army of soldiers led by Clara’s Nutcracker doll come to life (danced by Albert Drake). Fighting commences, and Clara saves the day by distracting the Rat King long enough for her Nutcracker to slay him. It’s rare that a Nut fight scene actually looks like one, and unfortunately, this one again falls short of having actual excitement.
The snow scene makes up for it, though. Hannah Mayer and guest artist Travis Morrison create a lovely picture as the snow queen and king. Mayer exhibits a delightfully effortless quality with impressive technique for a dancer her age. The snow ensemble fares decently well with the choreography and for the most part has pretty good timing. Maxwell Capper reprises his role as the Nutcracker prince, demonstrating marvelous acting skills.
Act Two brings Clara and her prince to the Kingdom of Sweets where the residents applaud her bravery with a series of dances. The divertissements of this act are a mixed bag but end with a bang. Since these dancers also appear in the snow scene, it’s interesting to note how some of them handle the varying movement qualities.
For example, some dancers look right at home with the vivacious nature of the Spanish segment, when earlier those same performers looked rather stiff and slightly uncomfortable with the classical precision of the snow. Conversely, some who handled the snow choreography with greater ease didn’t quite transition into the sultriness of the Latin-inspired movements.
The company changed up the Arabian a little, but it didn’t have quite the same appeal. Instead of a passionate duet unfolding on stage, a trio of ladies swish and swirl in purple skirts adorned with gold. On the one hand, it’s nice to see them switch up what’s typically a popular sequence, but this attempt didn’t have the usual excitement that the Arabian can bring.
As usual, though, the Chinese section livens up the stage. Yee shines yet again as the featured dancer. The Marzipans follow with some precise ensemble work, and the Russian men’s trio amazes. For the latter, Chamberlain enlists the help of SMU students Dorsey and Adrian Aguirre and again features Drake. Coleman displays another side as the large-and-in-charge Mother Ginger, and children in the audience were obviously in awe of the dancers that emerged from her skirt.
The other major ensemble work “Waltz of the Flowers” didn’t fare as well as the snow scene. Bethany Greenho appears stiff and unsure as the Dewdrop fairy, and the corps in general lacks the timing and precision exhibited elsewhere in the production.
Again, just as the energy falls a tad, another segment will bring it back up, this time the Sugar Plum pas de deux. This year, Chamberlain enlists the talents of New York City Ballet principal Maria Kowroski as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and fellow NYCB principal Tyler Angle returns as the Cavalier. Kowroski presents enviable arabesques and breathtaking transitions, and Angle is pure perfection.
Low moments aside, Chamberlain Performing Arts executes a quality ballet that proves to be a visual delight and a charming holiday tradition.