Irving — Of the multiple pre-professional Nutcrackers I’ve been able to see this season, Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ (BET) annual production of the holiday classic, which they performed at the Irving Arts Center last Saturday night, contained some of the most complex and inventive choreography thus far, particularly in the cultural dances in Act II. BET Director Allan Kinzie and his choreographic team, including company advisor Lisa Slagle, Tammie Reinsch and Allison D’Auteuil Whitfield did a commendable job of showcasing the company’s ever-growing technical proficiency, athletic fortitude and personal expressiveness through creative dance sequences jam packed with fast pointe work, intricate petit jumping sequences with changing epaulement and visually exciting movement contagions and formation changes. Add in the vibrant décor, jewel-encrusted costuming and some exuberant performances from local guest artists from Texas Ballet Theater (TBT), and BET has another successful Nutcracker production to add to their books.
There were some minor discrepancies between the first and second half of the show. Act I started on a slower note with some timing issues and fluctuating energy levels in the children’s dances in the party scene, but the show gained momentum during the battle scene and ended with a spectacular snow scene featuring BET company member Masumi Yoshimoto and TBT’s Brett Young in the coveted Snow Queen and King roles. The choreographers prevented overcrowding in the party scene with well-planned traffic patterns and minimal stage props. This in turn gave the well-played adult guests more room to waltz and the children more space to chasse around in a giant circle. And while occasionally musically out of sync during the adagio doll dance, viewers couldn’t miss the young girls’ beautiful presentation of the foot before each pique step and their high releves in the bourrees and soutenu turns.
Sheridan Guerin and Kinzie were both steadfast in their roles as Clara and Drosselmeyer. A former dancer with the Boston Ballet, Kinzie captivated audiences with his grandfatherly mannerisms and musical awareness when presenting Clara with her Nutcracker doll. Guerin drew us in with her angelic demeanor, but she held our attention with her clean lines and super-flexible feet, which were most pronounced when she executed an arabesque hold or bourrée step. One of the sweetest moments in the party scene came when Guerin and Kinzie fed off each other’s energy in one of the partner dances.
Yoshimoto and Young handled the complicated choreography in the Snow pas de deux with dignity and boundless energy. The movement showcased their expert facility and amazing body control through numerous assisted pirouettes, sustained arabesque balances, opposing body angles and no more than five press up lifts and shoulder sits. There were a few instances where the couple’s movement felt rushed especially in some of the assisted turns, but both dancers quickly adjusted their tempos to stay in time with Tchaikovsky’s driving score. The 16 snowflakes perfectly captured the nuances in the music with their springy footwork and sequential arm movements as well as their creative use of space and opposing rhythms.
The second half of the show was more consistent in terms of technique and performance quality and featured some exceptional dancing from certain company members and TBT guest artists Paige Nyman and Paul Adams as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier.
Raquel Gamboa, Lisette Hotz, Hannah Menchu and Melynda Phillips performed the musical fan flicks and sharp leg lifts in the Spanish variation in perfect unison while Ryan Nemmers executed a series of double pirouettes and tour en l’airs. The young men of BET which included Joseph Dang, Michael Fass, Nemmers, Adam Phillips and Akihiro Yoshimoto showed off their athletic dexterity and genuine charm in the widely popular Russian piece with multiple toe touches, double knee jumps and round houses. And while Helena Cerny and Phillips struggled with some of the hand holds and foot placements in the Dewdrop Fairy pas de deux, the couple pushed through to deliver some stunning moving pictures. Soloists Jordan Carter, Ana Denton, Menchu and Juliana Yu are proving themselves worthy of future leading roles with their exacting pointe work and beautifully controlled body positions in the Waltz of the Flowers.
BET is also the only pre-professional company that includes the Hungarian dance in its Nutcracker production. The repetitive rhythmic foot stomping and staccato arm placements were quite simple, but the steadily building tempo added a layer of anticipation of which none of the other dances could match.
The stars of the night were Nyman and Adams in the grand pas de deux. Both dancers are rising through the ranks of Texas Ballet Theater and have shown steady improvement both technically and artistically speaking over the last year. The couple executed the tricky counterbalance holds and multiple reverse promenades throughout the piece without a stumble. Adams pushed his stamina to the limit with consecutive turning jetes, double tours to the knee and multiple front and back cabrioles while Nyman performed the delicate pointe work and fast-paced fouette turns at the end with swan-like poise.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com