Richardson — The Chamberlain Ballet delivered another audience-pleaser on Nov. 29 at the Charles W. Eisemann Center in Richardson as they celebrated the opening of their 35th season with The Nutcracker. An annual highlight of their program is appearances from New York City Ballet stars, with Tyler Angle and Tiler Peck joining the concert this year. They’re the main distinguishing factor in the company’s holiday tradition and no doubt provided exciting inspiration for the aspiring dancers during the run of this rite-of-passage ballet.
The evening began with a party, as Dr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum and their two children eagerly awaited the guests. Clara (Lily Wright) and Fritz (Braden Ryan) engaged in the usual sibling antics, and before too long, the house filled with festively dressed friends and colorful presents. The mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer brought the best, with magic tricks and life-like dolls. The most interesting, however, was a special nutcracker doll for Clara. Despite some childish shenanigans (including the nutcracker doll breaking), the party was a hit and the guests depart with joyful exhaustion from the night’s activities.
Another unique facet of this performance is a guest choreographer for the party scene, dance historian extraordinaire Catherine Turocy, who not only collaborates with the Dallas Bach Society for Baroque dances but is well-known for creating and/or reconstructing dances from multiple eras throughout history. For Chamberlain, she provided fascinating group dances for adults and children. Given the amount of people on stage and the range of dancing and acting abilities, the party scene delivered the amount of controlled chaos as expected. Zander Magolnick was a standout, performing an especially stunning soldier doll variation.
The magic amped up in the middle of the night, as the tree grew to an impossible size, giant mice terrorized Clara, and the nutcracker doll came to life with his army to protect her. A tepid battle scene didn’t damper Aaron D’Eramo’s impressively strong performance as the Nutcracker, and as the battle came to a close, the doll transformed to a Prince, acted by a charming Toby Mattingly. As he led Clara through the wintry wonderland, Snow Queen Angel Su and King Ethan Slaughter danced a mostly pleasant pas de deux, with a few partnering bobbles. The scene heightened with the snow ensemble, and they fared decently well with choreography that could have easily overwhelmed them with the music’s dynamic range.
Act II’s Kingdom of Sweets generated much enthusiasm, with several audience favorites. Su and Slaughter maneuvered through the Arabian variation with much more confidence than their Act I duet, garnering much applause. A fantastic Russian variation with D’Eramo and Magolnick excited, and Jared Fletcher left everyone in stitches with his Mother Ginger performance. The adorable Polichinelles elicited the expected “awww” moments, as well.
The Chinese variation was interesting, because it included fan choreography reminiscent of the Korean Fan Dance, but I’m not sure if that cross-cultural inclusion was purposeful or unintentionally ignorant. The Spanish dancers in character shoes had lovely smiles, but their execution was a little fuzzy, and the same issues happened during the Marizpan. Waltz of the Flowers (the grand lead-up to the ballet’s peak moment) had pleasing pictures with smooth floor patterns and an energetic performance from Katherine Patterson as the Dew Drop Fairy. Performance qualities from the ensemble suffered a bit, but the quartet of roses (Grace Allen, Kathryn Allen, Kelly Gleason, and Chloe Holliman) delivered some remarkable moments.
For the grand pas de deux, Peck and Angle danced George Balanchine’s choreography (with permission from The George Balanchine Trust), another distinctive feature of Chamberlain’s performance. From beginning to end, whether they’re moving through luscious adagios or sprightly allegros, they exude excellence and warmth. They’re the perfect touch to the company’s established reputation.