Dallas — A new Nutcracker from a new company brings opportunities to witness a different take on the classic and see its growth through future performance. Setting the ballet for the first time is not an easy undertaking, especially since DFW has been delivering several high-caliber holiday productions for decades. In their inaugural year, Ballet North Texas, directed by Nicolina Lawson, bravely steps forward with their first production of The Nutcracker, presented for one night at The Black Academy of Arts and Letters, before it heads to Terrell and Palestine.
They follow the basic narrative. A grand Christmas party at the Stahlbaum home brings excitement, especially for their children Marie (Amelia Dodson) and Fritz (Scarlett Lawson). Friends gather for food, drink, and gifts, but Herr Drosselmeier (Dillon Lawson) provides the most intrigue. Dancing dolls and the coveted gift of a nutcracker to Marie are just some of the surprises up his sleeve. After the party, Marie finds herself in a dream with a larger-than-life Christmas tree and a ferocious battle between her Nutcracker (Rossi Walter, Jr.) and the Rat King (Tristan Rodney). The Nutcracker prevails, gets transformed into a Prince (guest artist Darwin Black), and takes Marie through the Land of Snow to the Kingdom of Sweets.
The production overall is a mixed bag, leaning towards the rough side. Given that this is BNT’s first go at a complex ballet, the weak areas are somewhat expected. The show’s strength lies in its dancers, and a glance at the roster reveals many familiar faces who have extensive performance experience. Among the professionals, beaming faces and impressive technical execution elevate the production.
Bobbles in execution and partnering pop up quite a bit, but there appears to be an issue with the canned music at the Natalie Bruton Theater that likely contributes to this. From the opening notes, it sounds like the songs play at a slightly faster speed than most recordings, which affects tempo and pitch. It’s an issue that teachers and performers have likely come across when playing the same track on multiple sound systems. This explains many points in the ballet where dancers look rushed, timing wavers, and precision levels drop. Given the tempo surprise, however, the company dancers display remarkable moments, demonstrating their professionalism in handling obstacles.
Kaley Jensen delivers a dazzling Sugar Plum Fairy, and she partners well with an explosive, animated Black in the grand pas de deux. Whitney Hart and Tristan Rodney present a praiseworthy Arabian duet, while Kenna McCoy commands the stage in the Chinese Tea solo. Rebecca Grove, Natalie Anton, and Heather Dods also give commendable performances in their lead divertissements roles, and Hannah Rae Kleimeyer makes a stunning Snow Queen.
Since these parts came later in the ballet, there’s still the party and battle scenes to contend with. The first part of any Nutcracker relies heavily on dramatic action and staging, and this is where BNT falters. First, major gaps appear in the action and choreography, and in many places, there’s no focal point to anchor the narrative line. Another issue is blocking, as key points in the story get lost because the performers’ bodies obstruct the view. Overall, the segments look unrehearsed, with unsure execution, fuzzy transitions, and prop mishaps.
Sets and costumes work decently well. A beautifully painted Christmas tree backdrop provides the centerpiece of Act I, and a large grandfather clock highlights the significance of midnight for the battle scene. Some technical issues for the snow scene create some confusion for the scenery, but Act II displays brilliantly-colored, Candyland-style scenery. Lawson’s strong suit is costumes, and they match well for the most part. An exception is the Dew Drop Fairy (Rebecca Grove), who dons a minimalist, lyrical-style dress. Although it looks lovely on Grove, it doesn’t belong in a ballet where other characters are clad in traditional costumes.
Overall, Ballet North Texas delivers a laudable attempt at what will hopefully be their holiday tradition for years to come. Kudos to them, also, for branching out and reaching new audiences.