Flower Mound — As a dance critic, I’m often asked this time of year, “What’s the best Nutcracker for me to see?” The answer is never cut-and-dry, as the various productions around the Metroplex all have their pros and cons due to quality, location, cost, and a host of other reasons. Considering those factors, there’s no one show that leaves all others in the dust, so I typically provide a few choices.
LakeCities Ballet Theatre is one I always recommend. A trek to the downtown centers of Dallas or Fort Worth is not necessary to find quality, enjoyable entertainment for the holidays. Marcus High School in Flower Mound provides the venue for a well-choreographed production, solid dancers, and beautiful costumes. Artistic Director Kelly Kilburn Lannin creates a satisfying rendition of the classic ballet, assisted by Nancy Loch, Shannon Beacham, Lindsay Coe, and Fabiana Fadlala Poulis.
Another draw is its live music, and it’s the only Nutcracker in North Texas to use the full orchestration of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s iconic score. Adron Ming returns to direct the Lewisville Lake Symphony, and Kendall Lannin directs the choir for the snow scene. Everything truly is live, which is the biggest reason I keep it on my list.
Unfortunately, the symphony didn’t quite garner the excitement I’d hoped for in the opening night’s performance. The percussion section felt out of balance and overbearing (possibly due to its differing location), the melodies felt sluggish at times, and a few subtly squeaky wind instruments towards the end jarred the senses a bit. They’re usually quite on point, so this seemed an anomaly.
Overall, the dancers performed as expected, including the usual surprises. LBT fosters young artists, so while some bobbles and timing issues are the norm, there’s always a few brilliant dancers that make returning patrons marvel at the individual artist’s growth. Guests Sarah Lane (American Ballet Theatre) and Daniel Ulbricht (New York City Ballet) return as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier, respectively.
If yet another reason is needed to see this production, the opening to the party scene gives it. There’s something delightfully simple and fun about the party guests making their way through the aisles to get to the Silberhaus annual Christmas party set in 19th century Germany.
Once at the house, Clara (Kristina Lorelli) and her brother Fritz (Trevin Ralphs) eagerly rush about as the guests arrive. Lorelli demonstrates lovely control en pointe. Herr Drosselmeyer (Kenn Wells) provides magical entertainment with a puppet show, dolls that come to life, and the gift of a nutcracker doll to Clara—which is promptly broken by Fritz. That’s what brothers are for, right?
The doll is mended, parents dance and drink, kids behave like, well, kids, and before everyone knows it, the night is over.
But not for Clara. Drosselmeyer returns to wake her for midnight magic. Giant mice invade, but her Nutcracker doll comes to life (Aaron Dolan) to fend them off. He’s almost no match for a hilarious Robert Stewart as the Mouse King (still the best in the Metroplex), but Clara helps her prince defeat him. A journey through the Land of Snow ends up in the Kingdom of Sweets, where she’s rewarded for her bravery.
The magical snow scene finds its strength in intricate staging and the demi-soloists. Snow Queen and King Michelle Lawyer and Ruben Gerding light up the stage with delicate partnering worthy of the snow that will later fall, but demi-soloists Carley Denton, Carly Greene, Mikaela Seale, and Julia Tiller steal the spotlight with their precise timing and consistently shining smiles.
Act II in a company such as this is typically a mixed bag, with stellar moments and those not-so-brilliant times. It’s the former that makes it worth it.
The spicy Spanish variation flaunts gorgeous costumes, but the dancers’ inconsistent timing doesn’t quite keep up the energy. Tiller bravely fulfills the female role in the heavenly Arabian duet, partnered by a captivating Beacham, proving that she has the physical capacity for the challenging part.
A cute but short Chinese variation is followed by the Russian Baba, featuring Andre Harrington maneuvering through several breakdancing and acrobatic tricks. The Mirliton trio seems a little stiff and unsure, but the next variation with Mother Ginger brings the energy back up—and the laughter. Former Cowboys player Isaiah Stanback returns as the larger-than-life matron with his No. 86 jersey and helmet.
For “Waltz of the Flowers,” Denton dances the Dew Drop, partnered by Beacham. While her technique is remarkable for her age (especially in her fouette turns), she appears more at home in the snow scene, somehow missing the different type of artistry required for the Waltz. Greene finds it, however, making her the star of this sequence.
The grand pas de deux never disappoints, with the caliber of dancers LBT brings in, and this duet proves stunning, as usual. Ulbricht’s gravity-defying jumps bring gasps from the audience, and Lane is sheer perfection as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Orchestra mishaps aside, this is still one show to plan for in future years.