Dallas — There’s a new professional ballet company in town and they’re upping the local Nutcracker game with a traveling production that will make stops in Dallas, Terrell and Palestine this holiday season. Ballet North Texas (BNT) is the brainchild of Nicolina Lawson, a classically trained dancer who had been traveling between her home in Wichita Falls and Dallas for the last five years for dance jobs before officially settling down in Dallas with her husband and kids last year.
Lawson grew up training at her mom’s dance studio in Redding, California. From there she went to San Francisco where she studied with Alonzo King, Summer Lee Rhatigan, Arturo Fernandez, Julie Tobiason and Meg Potter. In 2006 she moved to Venice to dance with Teatro De La Danza Italia under the guidance of Salvatore Gagliardi and Stefania Sandrin. She met her husband abroad and started freelancing to accommodate all the moving around they had to do with his job.
Throughout her professional career Lawson has danced classical and contemporary roles with Redding City Ballet, Alaska Dance Theatre and Momentum Dance Collective. In Dallas, she has performed in works presented by Contemporary Ballet Dallas (now Ballet Dallas) and Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet. She currently teaches and choreographs for The Hathaway Academy of Ballet in Plano; Studio C in Burleson; and is a teacher and rehearsal instructor for Wichita Falls Ballet. Lawson also holds two Bachelor’s of Science degrees in business economics and marketing from the University of Maryland.
So, what motivated her to start a ballet company in Dallas? Lawson says, “I know a lot of the ballet schools in the area do story ballets and other classical works, but unless you’re dancing with Texas Ballet Theater I find that a lot of the professionals don’t get the opportunities to dance these classical roles.”
She adds, “I also love ballet! I grew up in the studio and it was like this part of me that was just missing.”
Lawson admits that is was also a case of being in the right place at the right time because around then a friend of hers, the dance director of the Lakewood Conservatory of Fine Arts, was looking for new ways to expand upon its offerings and so the Lakewood Conservatory is now home for BNT. The company currently has 18 dancers, many of whom also perform alongside other local dance companies, including Ballet Dallas and Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet. Some names you might recognize include Whitney Hart, Hannah Rae Kleimeyer, Heather Dods and Tristan Rodney.
Lawson says the opportunity to perform in other Texas cities presented itself during her search for a venue for the Dallas performance. One of her phone calls was with a board member of the Terrell ISD Excellence Foundation who broached the subject of hosting BNT’s Nutcracker since the community hasn’t had a professional showing of the holiday classical come through in a while. Lawson says Palestine has a similar story in which the community hasn’t seen a professional company perform The Nutcracker in almost a decade.
To make these communities feel even more included, Lawson held auditions in each city and each performance will have a different cast of children from that community as well as a different company members in the lead roles such as The Sugar Plum Fairy, Cavalier and Nutcracker Prince. The role of Clara will also be performed by a company member, except for the show in Dallas where local pre-professional Amelia Dodson will be playing the character.
For someone with so much riding on these Nutcracker performances Lawson sounded very calm and focused during our phone conversation earlier this week. When I asked what is was like putting together her first Nutcracker production, and with three different casts no less, she replies, “It was a learning experience for sure. There’s all these things that I never had to think about when I was performing, such as what music is going to be playing when the audience walks into the theater so it is not silent.”
On the flip side, Lawson says creating the choreography for the show was a pretty organic process as the idea for how she wanted the story to go had been in her head for quite some time. “I took a little more of the original story with the Nutcracker and the Rat King and infused that into the version that most of America knows. So, in my production the Nutcracker turns into the Cavalier and my Clara is still Clara and doesn’t turn into the Sugar Plum Fairy. She’s actually on the journey with the Nutcracker/Cavalier to return him back to the Land of the Sweets where the Sugar Plum Fairy is waiting for him because he has been cursed to begin with.”
Lawson is also well aware there are a number of professional dance companies already operating out of Dallas. So, as far as where she thinks BNT is going to fit into the local landscape Lawson says, “Originally I would have said we were for anyone that wanted that kid-friendly environment, but with all the opportunities that we’ve had to tour I really feel like that is going to be our niche moving forward.”
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com