Dallas — Audiences disappointed in the fact Texas Ballet Theater will not be bringing its Nutcracker production to the Winspear Opera House this season can find some solace in Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) equally skillful, yet a little less traditional take on the holiday classic this Thursday at the Dallas City Performance Hall. Boasting a 35-minute running time, ACB’s Nutcracker: Short and Suite features some of our favorite dance segments from the second half of the beloved production, including Spanish Chocolate, Arabian Coffee, Chinese Tea, the Marzipans, Russian Trepak, Candy Canes, Waltz of the Flowers and the grand pas de deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. And with live accompaniment provided by Bishop Arts Brass and Saule Garcia on piano there is really no other Nutcracker production like this one being offered in North Texas.
With her long, lethal legs, regal stature and precise point work, Yulia Ilina seems designed to play the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. During last week’s rehearsal at Park Cities Dance in Dallas I looked on as Ilina and Artistic Director Katie Cooper make some tiny changes to her solo in order to keep everything musical according to Cooper. This phrase becomes Cooper’s mantra when she is giving notes in between each dance section. In Ilina’s case it means taking out the little arabesque half turn before a bourrée or adjusting the timing of arm gesture to more closely match the nuances in Tchaikovsky’s well known score. Cooper also tweaks Ilina’s epaulement placement in certain spots to draw more attention to her lines. Cooper puts Eugene Barnes and Ilina’s endurance levels to the test with two rock solid press up lifts in the grand pas de deux, with the last one ending in a fish bowl dip with Ilina’s legs wrapped around Barnes’ middle. Newcomer Barnes demonstrated great strength and extension in his rotating jete series and sautés while veteran Ilina hit every move in her part, including the 16 downstage progressing fouettes, with melodic fervor and refined execution.
From here on out it was one technically enchanting and visually exciting dance after another. Most choreographers have a hard time working with odd numbers, particularly trios, but Cooper is always finding new ways for the dancers to interact with one another and her signature circling patterns and linked arm movements were present in both the Spanish Chocolate and Marzipan numbers. Madelaine Boyce and Kaitlyn McDermitt showcased their amazing stamina and unbreakable form in their roles as Chinese Tea and Trepak while Megan Van Horn will mesmerize viewers with her fluid body isolations and lingering floor splits in the Arabian dance.
Cooper breathes new life into the Waltz of the Flowers ensemble piece with dynamic crisscrossing jete passes, petit allegro jumps incorporating multiple beats and directional changes with epaulement as well as brain teasing formation changes. The section where all ten dancers morph from a circle into a star-shape that they then rotated clockwise while performing quick-moving waltz steps was particularly impressive. The group’s meticulous timing and Juliann McAloon’s zealous fouette turns near the end are also sure to leave you feeling breathless.
The evening will also include Cooper’s Sleigh Ride which is comprised of shorter dances performed to Chris Coletti’s Bach’s Bells and instrumental versions of classic holiday songs, including “O Tannenbaum,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “What Child Is This” and, of course, “Sleigh Ride.”
» Avant Chamber Ballet’s Holiday Celebration takes place Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. at Dallas City Performance Hall. Tickets are available at www.ticketdfw.com
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com