Garland — In addition to musically enchanting choreography and well-placed comedic moments, what Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker performance—which has performances with a second cast Dec. 7-9—also had an abundance of talented young men playing pivotal roles in every scene of one of the best recreations of The Nutcracker I have seen from a local pre-professional ballet company in quite some time.
A fast-paced show that ended right on two hours, DBC’s Nutcracker was a whirlwind of bold colors, delicious looking props, splendid dancing and beautiful storytelling that brought new life to the 300-year-old ballet, which features movement by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov and a score written by Pyotr Ilyich Tch Tchaikovsky. The DBC’s performance contained elements from the original story written by E.T.A. Hoffmann as well as moments from George Balanchine’s Nutcracker, which is the stage production that audiences are most familiar with.
The story begins at the Silberhaus home where the family entertains its close friends with a grand Christmas Eve celebration. The party includes a visit by Herr Drosselmeyer (local actor Randolph McKee) who sets the action for the rest of the performance when he gifts a nutcracker doll to his goddaughter Clara played by the charming Anna Speer. This makes Clara’s brother, the endearingly awkward Julien Pham-Davis as Fritz, unhappy, and he shows his displeasure by breaking her nutcracker doll near the end of the party.
This was the only somber moment in an otherwise jubilant scene that was made possible by the fun and technically fair dance sequences executed by both the young children, Clara’s friends and the adults. It was also made possible with some well-timed comedic moments such the side-eye Malcolm Miranda (Butler) gave to party guests, the assistant governess trying hopelessly to catch the coats being tossed her way and the adorable little party girl who tripped Fritz and then smiled gleefully to the audience.
After all the guest, leave Clara falls asleep, and when she awakens she is surrounded by numerous mice shaking their tails and cleaning their whiskers. At this point in the show the dancers began to integrate the set pieces into the action, which is something I have not seen done to this extent in other local Nutcracker productions. For example, mice jumped out of the grandfather clock, and four troublemaking rats ate cheese on the couch while watching the Nutcracker (Ciaran Barlow) and Rat King (Christian Otto) battle it out center stage. Benjamin Barr, Trey Hileman, Ashton Pham-Davis and John Scullion had the audience laughing out loud with their stage antics, which included playing a game of Whac-A-Mole with the little soldiers standing up in a straight line upstage and even added pop culture references with the Floss dance and Pittsburgh Steelers Antonio Brown’s touchdown dance.
The snow corps was also elegant in their body lines and group formations and attacked the springy pointe work with matching enthusiasm. And while their footwork started out heavy with the opening bourrees, the sound of their pointe shoes lessened as the dance went on.
In the second act of the show, Clara and her Prince are welcomed to the Kingdom of Sweets by a troupe of angels in the form of the youngest company members dressed in floor length gold gowns and bright smiles. As the couple is guided to their candied-covered throne The Sugar Plum Fairy (New York City Ballet’s Sterling Hyltin) and her Cavalier (New York City Ballet’s Andrew Veyette) make a grand entrance to much applause.
The second half of the show maintained the quick pace of the first half with divertissements that played to the dancers’ strengths, including flexibility, stamina, control, musicality and self-expression. Miguel Falcon and Macy Wheeler with Luke Hileman, Carlie Jacobs, Christian Otto and Audrey Ratcliff kicked it off with a sassy, syncopated performance in the Spanish variation filled with skirt swishes, grand battements and musical partnering.
Terrence Martin returned as a guest artist for DBC in the Arabian dance again this year, where he showed off his athetic ability in a couple of back hand springs as Lydia Louder and Isabella Poscente rhythmically moved around him. The Chinese variation, led by Courtney Raine, featured intricate pointe work and matching fan work.
The show had not one but four Russian Babas who were then matched with four young ladies in a very loud and boisterous dance number filled with stomping, clapping and unexpected partnering sequences. The grandest moment came when the boys paired off and then linked arms with each other and then two girls on their outside arms and began to run in a circle until they had enough momentum to lift the girls off the floor.
In DBC’s rendition, Mother Ginger (Gloria Ewerz) directed over a dozen gingerbread children through a series of elementary ballet moves as they waved their wooden spoons in the air. The Pastry Chefs in the back waving the oversized gingerbread men on large sticks were also a nice touch.
The Reeds didn’t quite keep up with the punctuated nuances in their music, but Lead Reeds Veronica Britt, Kendyll Jacobs and Tatum Jenkins all delivered strong performances. Flower leads Charlotte Kelsey and Christian Otto lacked chemistry, which impacted some of the physical connections in their partnering sequences, but they were much more confidant in their solo sections. At the same time the flower corps were enchanting with their graceful arm placements, accented pointe work and picturesque ending pose.
All this glitz and glam paved the way for guest artists Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in the grand pas deux. The couple drew attention to the tender love story between the two characters with their purposeful hand and body connections as well as their expressive facials aimed at one another. Both sat in the pocket of the music, which heightened the audience’s admiration for the two professional dancers. Hyltin seems made for the Sugar Plum Fairy role with her breathy port de bra arms and risky pointe work. Veyette’s performance was a great example of what is expected from male ballet dancers in these classical roles. In addition to his strength and dexterity in his solos, Veyette also showed the audinece what a strong support system he can be for Hyltin. Sometimes this meant stepping back while Hyltin performed a series of petit allegro jumps or simply walking in a circle while holding her hand. And of course Veyette was there to assist Hyltin when she jumped in the air and to effortlessly lift her over his head to the ooh’s and aah’s of the audience.
Audiences only get a taste of this type of partnering in most pre-professional Nutcracker performances. But with a large cast that featured more than 20 young boys, teenagers and grown men, DBC’s Nutcracker performance gave the audience a unique opportunity to see traditional partnering moves in almost every dance sequence throughout the entire show, which then helped the female dancers to shine brighter.
» The second cast in Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker performs Dec. 7-9 at the Granville Arts Center in Garland.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com