Richardson — Last year Chamberlain Performing Arts (CPA) captivated audiences with its robust storytelling and strong classical technique during the company’s annual Nutcracker performance at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, TX. Last Friday night, even with some technical inconsistencies scattered throughout the show, CPA still managed to deliver a cheerful and cohesive Nutcracker production with the help of returning guest artists Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle of the New York City Ballet.
Not wasting any time CPA jumped right into the action of the first scene, which takes place at the Stahlbaum’s annual Christmas party. Adults and children mixed and mingled seamlessly around the space before Herr Drosselmeyer (Jared Fletcher) arrived with presents for all the children, including his godchildren Clara (Mika Eppstein) and Fritz (Aki Eppstein). Sometimes viewed as the ringmaster of the party scene, Herr Drosselmeyer was charged with entertaining the audience in between dance sequences as well as being the barometer for the pace of the action in the scene. Fletcher succeeded in the first with his meticulous pantomime movements and well-rehearsed magic tricks, but fell short on the second with his mediocre cape work and timid handling of Mika right before the battle scene.
However, Mika showed no hesitancy in her portrayal of Clara. Her innate sunny disposition and balletic fervor made her the ideal choice for the role. She beautifully captured the nuances in Pyotr IIyich Tchaikovsky’s well known score with sustained balances, expansive arm movements and cleanly executed soft shoe work which featured chaines, pas de bourrees, soutenus, tendues and pirouettes. She had the tendency to cut some of her movements short especially her arabesque arms, but that is something that will improve in time. The sibling rivalry between Clara and Fritz came naturally for real life siblings Mika and Aki and drew numerous chuckles from the audience.
Choreographers Kathy Chamberlain, Richard Condon, Lynne Short and Catherine Turocy kept the movement in the party scene simple, which was smart considering the various ages and dance experiences of the performers on stage. The choreographers went with rudimentary steps such as triplets, hop steps, tendues, pas de bourrees and ballet runs (running toe heel with the feet turned out), but then layered these movements with alternating arm placements, direction changes, lengthy balances and playful musicality to keep the movement interesting. For example, instead of having the mice scamper across the stage as per usual, Carolyn Cox had them interact with the stage design by rearranging Christmas gifts in time to the sound of a ticking clock. It was a nice change of pace and smoothly transitioned into the battle, which was fast moving and contained some well-crafted fighting exchanges between the Rat King (Ricardo Hartley III) and the Nutcracker (Maxwell Capper). Also, props to Eric Gray for creating a lighting design that enhanced the action on stage and complemented the tempo changes in the music.
This year’s snow scene contained all the buoyant pointe work and waif-like arm gestures audiences have come to expect from this extremely challenging variation. Lisa Hess Jones’ did an admirable job of helping the 16 snowflakes acclimate to the contrasting choreography, which had the dancers attacking the movement with their feet while maintaining a fluid upper body and soft facial expressions. Bethany Greenho’s technique continues to improve as was evident in her controlled leg extensions and beautiful balances during the Snow Queen and King pas de deux. She still had some stiffness in shoulders during the partnering skills, but overall her breathing patterns have much improved adding more dimension to her performance. Guest Artist Alberto Gaspar easily won viewers over with his larger than life stage presence and careful handling of Greenho during the duet’s many lifts, tilts and pirouettes.
The second half showcased the company’s versatility and agility in several well-known Nutcracker variations, including the Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian. Lauren Davidson, Raquel Dominguez, Arianna Haynes, Elisabeth Housley, Kendall Johnson and Zoe Shofner performed the saucy wrist flicks and stag leaps in the Spanish dance with exacting force and careful timing. And even though the Arabian section lacked the lifts and contortion work we witnessed last year, Jessica Elliott, Emily Lanius and Cailey Schafer were still able to capture the mysterious nuances in the music with their slinky walks and subtle torso isolations.
CPA Company Member Luke Yee once again blew viewers away with his repetitive toe touches and fouettes in Chinese, which guest artists Albert Drake and Brock James Henderson of the Bruce Wood Dance Project then trumped with their squat-and-kick moves and 540 degree barrel turns in the Russian variation. Aidan Leslie, Katherine Hairston and Serena Press displayed great control and musicality in the Marzipan routine while Jared Fletcher looked more comfortable in the theatrical role of Mother Ginger and her polichinelles. Bethany Greenho also appeared more grounded in her role as the Dewdrop fairy which showed through her more fluid upper body.
The jewel of the night was the grande pas de deux performed by Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle of the New York City Ballet. A dynamic duo indeed Peck and Angle put their own stamp on George Balanchine’s musically-influenced choreography with their unmatched technical vigor and animated facial expressions. Angle easily maneuvered Peck through the tricky hand holds and balance changes in the partnering section before lowering her into a luxurious dip. Angle’s stamina was tested with numerous grande jetes and double tours to the knee while Peck’s feisty nature was perfectly displayed in the multiple turning sequences in the dance.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com