Aubrey — LakeCities Ballet Theatre returned to the stage last weekend with its annual performance of the Nutcracker, with choreography by LakeCities artistic director Kelly Kilburn Lannin. The production took place at Ray Braswell High School in Aubrey, and, though she thanked Braswell administration for making the venue available, Lannin implored audience members in a statement before the performance to contact Lewisville city leaders to urge them to consider building a new performing arts space large enough to accommodate the sizeable audiences that LakeCities performances attract.
LakeCities’ Nutcracker has become a North Texas tradition. The LakeCities’ production of the holiday staple is reportedly the only North Texas production that brings the full Tchaikovsky score to audiences. The Lewisville Lake Symphony, with conductor Adron Ming at the podium, was able to squeeze into the front section of the high school auditorium. As other TheaterJones writers have noted, live music brings a level of drama to the performance that would be difficult to achieve without it. I am reminded annually that Tchaikovsky’s score is masterfully layered, a tapestry of dynamics and tempi that seems to conjure its own imagery.
The party scene with which the production opens is a delightful treat that also features the trademark humor of the LakeCities Nutcracker production. Eager, perhaps spoiled, children are admonished lightheartedly by their parents, who by the evening’s end are toddling around the stage, having had one Christmas cocktail too many. Both young and old audience members laughed, knowingly.
The party scene included a section where all the children received gifts. As in many Nutcracker productions, boys received toy horns, and girls received dolls. The children play, and the boys decide to collectively scare the girls, while the girls quiver from fear. Although this problem is certainly not restricted to the LakeCities production, I was left wondering what a more gender-neutral version of this scene might look like. Perhaps some of the boys might want dolls for Christmas or the girls toy horns? Could the teasing be reciprocal, or the two groups made co-ed?
After the party, a lively battle between the Mouse King (Robert Stewart) and his minions and the Nutcracker come to life (Adrián Aguirre) transported Clara, played by the delightful Kailey Scott, to a magical land of snow. Guest artist Steven Loch, a former LBT member and current soloist at Pacific Northwest Ballet, returned to the stage as the Snow King. His musical precision and confident partnering complemented Emily McLeod’s performance as Snow Queen. The pair was riveting as their energy in allegro sections matched the accelerating score.
The second half of the production saw Clara and her prince off to the Kingdom of Sweets as Spanish Chocolate (Emily McLeod), Arabian Coffee (Tatum Grubb and Shannon Beacham), Chinese Tea (Addie Couturiaux and Robert Stewart), a trio of Mirlitons (Ashley Isabelle, Scarlett Keith, and Ally Wren), Russian Babas (Ava Harrump, Noelle Laws, and Francisco Velazquez), and others entertained the guests. The lifts executed by Grubb and Beacham as the Arabian Coffee pair were well executed, and their partnership served as a choreographic palate cleanser, of sorts, that featured flexibility and length more than the magical symmetries of other sections. The Mirlitons, too, stood out for precise dancing, that extended from large to small movements. Although critics and others have begun to question some of the stereotypes that emerge in the Arabian and Chinese dances, their continued presence in the LBT Nutcracker allow dancers to display some virtuosic elements, such as the gymnastic flips brought to stage by Russian Baba guest artist Francisco Valasquez, who not only twisted to great effect but knew how to work the crowd.
LBT traditionally gives the role of Mother Ginger to a local celebrity or a well-known friend of LBT. As a Denton native, I was happy to see Denton legend André Rheault (“Frenchy”), dressed in his signature bright orange, play Mother Ginger on the Sunday matinee. As a TheaterJones writer, I wished I had also been at the Saturday rendition, when Michael Warner, executive director and co-founder of TheaterJones, held the role.
Steven Loch returned in the second half of the production as partner to Oliva Davis as Dew Drop. Davis’s performance, accompanied by a host of flowers, offered the traditional magical prelude for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. As has become another LBT tradition, Sarah Lane, American Ballet Theatre principal, and Daniel Ulbricht, New York City Ballet principal, were guest artists for these roles. The climatic fish dive elicited excitement in the house, but the performance is worth attending for Lane’s arm movements alone. Her dreamlike and dainty arm work runs from her shoulders to the tips of her fingers, matching the character of the Sugar Plum Fairy. It goes without saying that Ulbricht’s athletic jumps provide a textured counterpoint to Lane’s elegance.