Garland — Keep it simple, stupid.
It’s an oft-used phrase that transcends context, and never is it more appropriate than referring to The Nutcracker. With a purposefully hectic party scene, a tense battle, plenty of fluttering snowflakes, and loads of dancing ambassadors, the stage and action can easily become overwhelmed.
Enter Dallas Ballet Company (directed by Brent and Judy Klopfenstein), whose recent offering of the ballet at Garland’s Granville Arts Center epitomizes the saying like a nice kiss on the cheek. Even with one of the largest casts in the Metroplex, they manage to present a delightfully clear Act I with an equally notable showing of abilities in Act II.
Like most pre-professional companies in the area, they enlist the help of stellar dancers from top-name companies, with April Daly and Miguel Angel Blanco from the Joffrey Ballet returning as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier, respectively. Gymnast Terrence Martin reprises his role in the Arabian for the 18th year in a row, and local actor Randolph McKee brightens up the stage yet again as Herr Drosselmeyer. Dallas Ballet Center alum Jason Fowler also lends his expertise as guest choreographer.
It’s the story of Clara Silberhaus (Rachel Harris) enjoying her family’s annual Christmas party and receiving a nutcracker doll from Drosselmeyer. Her dream that night begins with a battle between the Rat King and Nutcracker Prince, with their respective armies, and culminates with a walk through the Kingdom of Snow and on to the Land of Sweets, where she’s entertained by a plethora of dancers.
A number of elements contribute to the success of the party scene. Movements time perfectly with the music, further adding to the entertainment factor, and simple choreography and staging combine with deliberate pantomime, making for an easily readable story. Even in times where the stage feels crammed to the max, the focus manages to stay on the important narrative moments.
The dancers also have obvious training in performance and presentation, an aspect missing from many younger dancers. Beaming smiles become infectious as the performers instill a sense of joy in the patrons, and performers are dramatic without being overdone.
DBC seems to have no shortage of talented young men in their ranks, and Isaac Hileman as the Nutcracker Prince especially shines. Impressive pirouettes belie his young age, and his performance quality never falters.
As the Snow Queen, Olivia Mann takes a captivating approach to her role. A frosty winter ruler she is not, as she avoids the delicate smile typical of most lead ballerinas and instead goes full-on Broadway with her performance. She’s quite an accomplished technician, but her varied facial expressions and brilliant smile almost make one forget that aspect. Because she has quite a bit of stage time, that shining performance quality becomes a bit overbearing towards the end, but her time on stage is still one of the best moments of the show.
Snow ensemble choreography tends towards simplicity, as do the costumes, which resemble something closer to lyrical dresses rather than classical or Romantic tutus. Timing could use some work, but the nice floor patterns make up for it.
Act II is a bit more of a mixed bag, but still maintains the quality of the first half. Usually with these types of companies, the dancers struggle with precision and timing issues, but this group seems to be more on target with their movements than expected, although timing concerns still frequently pop up.
A feisty Spanish ensemble in stunning blue and brown costumes exhibits nice lifts. The Arabian divertissement focuses on Martin’s abilities, with supple displays of flexibility from Lanie Jackson and Charlotte Kelsey. Lydia Jekot as the lead Chinese dancer handles the difficult task of successive pirouettes from fifth position with ease and control.
A group of Russian Babas gets the audience clapping to the beat with flying jumps and quick coffee grinders. The Dance of the Reed Pipes has a surprisingly large corps of dancers, which would be cause for some concern, but again, simplicity wins. Annie Corley and Allison Riffe aptly execute the most difficult choreography as the lead dancers here. The “aw” moment of the show comes with Mother Ginger (Gloria Ewerz) and her gaggle of miniature bakers who enter the stage from a slide.
The Waltz of the Flowers in any Nutcracker is usually a hit or miss. Most companies employ intricate choreography, and when a quick tempo and longer length is thrown into the mix, it can be complete stunning or a mess. This one tends somewhat towards the latter. It has some impressive moments in the corps and duets, but as fatigue sets in, the picture turns fuzzy.
Daly and Blanco display a lovely controlled yet luxurious duet, as if they truly are defying gravity. Daly employs some lovely nuances amidst the traditional choreography of the “Sugar Plum Fairy” solo, and Blanco partners her with ease, especially in the final lift of the grand pas de deux.
It’s a good show to catch if you’re in the Garland area, but you should probably get your tickets early when it comes around again. A huge cast equals a packed theater, but it’s well worth it.