Richardson — Christmas is drawing closer, and plenty of opportunities abound to get your Nutcracker fix in before the season is over. Dallas Repertoire Ballet, under artistic director Megan Willsey-Buckland, gives Richardson audiences a dose of holiday cheer with their rendition at the Charles W. Eisemann Center.
Set in 19th century Germany, the ballet (originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov) follows the Stahlbaum family at their annual Christmas party. Festivities heighten with the entrance of the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer (Scott Taylor), who brings magical toys and a bounty of presents. One of those is a nutcracker doll for Clara Stahlbaum (Bella Rusli), which is subsequently broken by her jealous brother Fritz (George McClaskey). After the party, Clara falls asleep where she dreams of a magnificent battle, a dreamy snowscape, and a lively world of dancing sweets.
The show overall has highs and lows, and although the flat, disappointing elements outnumber the positive aspects, the company delivers enough notable moments to elevate the performance.
One of those standouts is Rusli’s exuberant performance and shining technical abilities. Paired with guest artist Dexter Green as the Nutcracker Prince (from Dark Circles Contemporary Dance USA), the two enjoy quite a bit of stage time. Rather than acting as spectator, as in many variations, the couple shows off their skills in the snow scene and in many parts of Act II. Green is one of the better princes in the area, with his gravity-defying leaps, controlled pirouettes, and engaging performance quality. The duo exudes charming warmth throughout the entire work.
The large cast of the party scene overpowers the stage, to point where important characters tend to get lost at times, and hesitant performances draw the energy down. While the dancing sequences are sometimes contrived, the dancers execute them with a well-rehearsed precision.
The same issues pop up in the battle scene, with tentativeness among many of the dancers and attempts to force dancing steps where they’re not necessary. The inclusion of the Rat Pack, however, is brilliant. A quartet of mice dressed as a family adds in some much needed comedy and character.
Rusli and Green open the snow scene with joyous dancing with a gorgeous snowy landscape in the background. Lynnae Hodges’s Snow Queen performance, while technically sound, lacks delicacy and confidence, an issue that repeats for her role as the Sugar Plum Fairy. She’s ably partnered by guest artist Harry Feril of Bruce Wood Dance Project, who radiates a quiet power. The two appear to work well together, with plenty of lovely lifts to enjoy. Snow ensemble choreography emphasizes the multiple formations and floor patterns rather than intricate choreography, which seems to be a good choice, since the dancers’ transitions and lines aren’t very precise.
Act II’s divertissements employ a multitude of dancers for each segment. It creates a crowded stage for the act, which works well for some parts but fails for others. All sequences utilize 4-6 different groups of dancers, each having their own costumes and choreography, and the success (or lack thereof) lies in the amount of movement going on at the same time.
For example, with four fast-paced groups simultaneously executing differing maneuvers in the Spanish, the usually snappy section becomes a dizzying jumble, hiding the precision and fire of the lead dancers. A similar situation occurs in the equally hectic Russian variation and a fuzzy Marzipan Reed Pipe dance, although Lucy Cole delivers an impressive performance in the latter.
The Chinese segment starts out frantic but calms down towards the end, as the black costumes and colorful props create an eye-popping effect. Slower unison work in the Arabian variation establishes a dreamy world, and the use of fabric and illusion brings a touch of magic. Michael Stone’s piercing gaze and composed, sultry movements make him ideal for the Arabian Coffee King.
Another overall accomplishment for the company is the costumes throughout. Sparkle and shine abound, with brilliant colors (especially for the Sugar Plum Fairy), but it’s most apparent in the Candy Cane sequence. A simple color palette of white, green, and red turns into a lovely circus of performers displaying a strong, precise variation. Soloists Samantha Doyle and Elizabeth Shupe deliver excellently synced fouette turns. The “Waltz of the Flowers” likewise demonstrates some admirable picturesque moments.
The low points of the show might not have had the disappointing impact if the music maintained consistency. Repeatedly, the music would change pitch, presumably to adjust the tempo. It might not be noticeable to some, but for those at least somewhat familiar with the score, it’s very distracting and irritable. Another reason for companies to consider live music.
As a whole, the evening proved to be an admirable showing of abilities with plenty of visually brilliant moments. Confidence and artistry seem to be consistent areas needing growth, but the group has quite a few talented performers in its ranks.