Richardson — The recent presentation of Tuzer Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the Eisemann Center in Richardson proves that the organization remains committed to excellence, going above and beyond their usual high standards, in memory of their late co-founder. Just weeks before last year’s production was to open, Tanju Tuzer passed away after a battle with cancer, but his legacy lives on with the most nuanced Nut in the Metroplex.
A grandly painted backdrop sets the scene for a party at the Stahlbaum home, where Marie (Natalie Bryn Marshall) and Fritz (Noah Woodiel) eagerly await the guests’ arrival. The merriment only heightens with the arrival of Herr Drosselmeier (Travis Morrison) and his plethora of games and presents. Multiple dolls and even a lion (Olivia Rehrman, from Bruce Wood Dance) provide wonder and awe, but the best moment for Marie is when he gives her a Nutcracker doll. After the party, a magical scene unfolds with an epic battle between the Rats and the Soldiers, headed by their respective leaders, the Queen Rat (Jasmine de LaCruz-Simpson) and the Nutcracker Prince (Chad Vaught, also from Bruce Wood Dance).
Several elements make these two segments click, one being the clean, well-rehearsed appearance of the party. Most notable, however, is the continuity between characters in each scene. Most Nutcrackers make some use of foreshadowing in the party scene (such as a puppet battle), but Tuzer takes it to a different level. Two cadets attend the party (Vaught and Lane Ward), bringing an impressive level of technical complexity to the festivities, and then arrive to the battle as the Nutcracker Prince and Royal General, respectively. Obviously Marie and Drosselmeier appear in both scenes, but a Tuzer exclusive is the Queen Rat’s attendance at the party, in disguise as Frau Rattenhausen, along with her daughter who appears as one of the lead mice during the fight (Virginia McKee).
The battle scene itself is one of the best in DFW, due to its clever staging and intricate lighting design by Jax Messenger. Making use of almost fifty dancers, the crowded stage conveys a sense of foreboding rather than devolving into chaos, and the detailed characters constantly provide a new point of focus. De LaCruz-Simpson remarkably maneuvers through the battle with a rat head, an extravagant dress, and heeled boots, making her the best Nut villain. Repeat Tuzer patrons might also appreciate her subtly telling gestures and facial expressions in the party scene, too.
The remainder of the ballet exhibits superb dancing and even more dazzling visuals. New this year for the snow scene is a breathtaking backdrop of snow-covered trees and matching legs. Boston Ballet guests Seo Hye Han and John Lam dance the Snow Queen and King with stunning ease and grace, and a charming snow ensemble finds extra dazzle with Rehrman’s solos.
Marie’s transition to the Kingdom of Sweets takes her through the mysterious Land of Fairies, with dancers in alluring costumes by Tamara Cavnar. The exceptional quality of the production continues through Act II. Lane Ward, Rehrman, and MyLinh Murphree display a remarkably precise Spanish Chocolate trio, and guests Vincent Hardy (artistic director of Zion Dance Project) and Marie Lawrence (Tuzer alum and SMU senior dance major) create a sumptuous Arabian duet, fulfilling the spellbinding quality the music demands. Albert Drake presents an explosive Russian solo with ease and joy, even amidst the challenging and athletic movements.
Another interesting facet of this Nut is Marie and the Prince’s involvement in the choreography. Marshall has a featured role in the snow scene, and it continues for the divertissements. They deliver the lead roles for the Danish Marzipan (the reed flute section) and the German Gingerbread (typically music for Polichinelles and/or Madame Bonbonaire). Vaught dances alongside Drake for some astonishing Russian folk maneuvers and exciting toe-touches. Marie and the Prince also appear in “Waltz of the Flowers” with soloist Rehrman, completing a gorgeous segment. Their execution and consistent performance qualities prove they’re both up to the demanding tasks, but Marshall especially demonstrates that she’s the hardest-working Nut lead in the area. And she’s only in high school.
So many dancers pull double duty in the production, not least of which are the Boston Ballet guests. In addition to their regal snow appearance, they’re also the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, performing the grand pas de deux. They execute the traditional choreography with impeccable precision, dazzling with sustained partnered pirouettes and the “no-hands” lift finish in the adagio. Lam’s solo displays light-as-air landings and neverending entrechat quatres, while Han delivers suspension en pointe like she’s frozen in time. They close the iconic segment with an elegant, grandiose coda.
As one of the longest running Nutcrackers in North Texas, Tuzer Ballet has a magnificent production on its hands.