Irving — The number of Nutcrackers filling the Metroplex are as numerous as the snowflakes we wish would fall, and luckily each one is as unique as every fluttering piece of white stuff that hopefully will appear this year. Ballet Ensemble of Texas presents a fairly traditional The Nutcracker at the Irving Arts Center, but it contains the most unique staging in the area.
Artistic Director Allan Kinzie works with choreographers Tammy Reinsch and Jenny Johnston and artistic advisor Lisa Slagle to display a staggering number of dancers and show off its shining stars.
The ballet begins (as usual) with a party. The Silberhauses are throwing their annual Christmas shindig and none could be happier than their two children, Clara and Fritz (Mimi Lamar and Ben Nemmers on Saturday night). Presents, food, and drink bring the festivities to a high point, but they pale in comparison to the wonders of Drosselmeyer (Kinzie). Magic tricks and dolls that come to life thrill the children, but the greatest gift is the nutcracker doll presented to Clara.
The magic continues after the party, as mice and soldiers battle it out under the Christmas tree, headed up by the Mouse King (Michael Fass) and the Nutcracker Prince (Ryan Nemmers). Clara helps her hero defeat the enemy, then they travel through a wintery wonderland to the Land of the Sweets, where dancers of the court entertain them.
To accommodate the large cast during each of the segments, BET employs a rather sparse stage throughout the entire show. Add in oversaturated lighting, muted costume colors in some areas, and mediocre backdrops, and the result is a less visually-pleasing production.
Several elements brighten up the theater, though. The first comes during the party scene. With a lackluster parents cast and a multitude of children and dancing dolls filling the stage, the maids (Raquel Gamboa, Lisette Hotz) and butler (Akihiro Yoshimoto) steal the show with hilarious flirting and outstanding comedic timing.
Ryan Nemmers astonishes with his technique, precision, and strength, especially with his pirouettes, although it’d be nice to see him smile after he defeats the Mouse King and ventures into the Land of the Sweets.
With the caliber of dancers BET presents, the snow scene should be a place for them to shine, and they don’t disappoint. Helena Cerny King illuminates the stage with a graceful demeanor and exquisite quality that belies her age. Effortless execution and enviable arabesques prove that this young lady will go places. Guest artist Shea Johnson partners her with a calming dexterity, making him another highlight of the show. Snow ensemble choreography gets confusing at times, but the corps handles it quite well.
Kinzie and crew take slightly different route with some of Act II’s divertissements. The Arabian variation features Rebekah Gee and Amber Robinson as the focal points (with Fass providing little partnering) and a sextet of background dancers. The main duet looks lovely, but with fewer lifts and tricks than expected and a crowded stage, the ensemble falls flat as a whole. A similar effect plagues the Mirlitons.
The opposite happens with the Hungarian sequence, a BET exclusive. Using character shoes rather than flat slippers or pointe shoes, the folk dance begins slow but builds to an exciting, toe-tapping finale.
Most of the other segments follow the typical path. A vivacious Spanish duet displays the unique performance talents of Sheridan Guerin and Yoshimoto. The latter already wowed us in the party scene, and an impressive Guerin proves she can keep up. Christian Williams pulls off an athletic allegro in the Chinese, and the other gentlemen pull double and triple duty, culminating in an exciting, precise Russian sequence with Fass, Nemmers, and Yoshimoto.
But it’s not just the guys leaving the audience in awe. Jordan Carter demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of her art as the Dew Drop Fairy in “Waltz of the Flowers.” With her sweet presence and controlled yet rich maneuvering through the choreography, she’s definitely worthy of the spotlight that follows her around the stage.
BET alum and Oklahoma City Ballet corps member Rayleigh Vendt and Johnson deliver a sweet grand pas de deux. Johnson, as usual, charms with his dramatic flair and soaring jumps. Vendt’s impeccable technique helps with the Sugar Plum Fairy variation, but she hasn’t quite developed the artistry and the subtle timing dynamics needed for such an iconic role, and it she seems a bit stunted. She’s well on her way, though.
The whole experience is a bit of trade-off. No doubt BET has some of the best pre-professional dancers in the Metroplex and they’re given ample opportunity to dazzle the audience, but crowded staging in some areas and uninspiring visuals prevent the production from being a truly spectacular event.