Texas Ballet Theater knows its target audience and plays to them well during its annual production of The Nutcracker, which opened Nov. 29 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House in Dallas. Those fans who came to see the company’s striking dancing skills were left wanting in some areas and wowed in others. (The performance reviewed was Sunday, Dec. 1.)
With a state-of-the-art venue like the Winspear, TBT went all out with gorgeous backdrops, large moving props, smoke machines and a flying sleigh, all from its new production that debuted in 2012. The two staircases on either side of the stage during the opening party scene gave the scene more dimension and provided the performers a bigger space to dance in. Even though the party scene lacked any real challenging technique (there was a lot of walking and gesturing) the audience got a big kick out of the slap stick comedy. For example, the clumsy grandfather, hard of hearing grandmother and prankster brother got the biggest laughs.
Corps dancer Drake Humphreys looked a little too old to be playing the annoying younger brother, but you cannot deny his enthusiasm or the strong technique hidden behind the boyish character. Dressed in a white nightgown, apprentice Aoi Takahashi made an angelic Clara. She had a lovely youthful air about her and competent pointe work.
The most commanding presence in the party scene was of course TBT Principal Carl Coomer as Dr. Drosselmeyer. Only a seasoned pro like Coomer can draw the audience’s attention with the flick of his wrist as he hands Clara her Nutcracker.
The story and dancing picked up momentum in the battle scene where the men of TBT displayed their strength and stamina as the Nutcracker’s soldiers. The scene contained plenty of action and the sword fighting between the Nutcracker (Adam Boreland) and the Rat King (Paul Adams) was enhanced by the dim lighting and menacing black and red figures in shapes of rats and nutcrackers on the front stage scrim.
After Clara killed the Rat King with her shoe the scrim rose to reveal a background of silvery blue and a snow encrusted slope hidden underneath a thin layer of mist. The atmosphere was perfectly set for the magical snow scene which featured the Snow Queen (TBT Principal Carolyn Judson) and Snow King (TBT Principal Lucas Priolo) entering via the misty slope. Judson was a spritely technician, attacking every pique turn and arabesque hold with grace and vigor. Priolo was a true gentleman; offering Judson his arm with poise and lifting her over his head with ease. It was a pleasure to see Priolo perform one of his signature roles one last time before he retires at the end of this season. The light and airy movement of the Snowflakes (advanced TBT students) was a lovely representation of the TBT School.
The second act contained more of the fabulous technique and artistry that viewers have come to expect from the company. TBT Principals Betsy McBride and Alexander Kotelenets were a dynamic duo as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince. McBride’s willowy frame made her lines appear unending. She accomplished the fast footwork and difficult turning section in the grande pas de deux with swanlike style. Kotelenets’ Apollo-like features matched his Apollo-like prowess as he ate up the stage in his turning grande jete section.
The acrobatic partnering of first soloist Simon Wexler and corps dancer Philip Slocki in the Chinese section and their drop in from the ceiling on two swings were big crowd pleasers. Corps Dancer Adam Boreland as the Gopak got a round of applause for his otherworldly grande jetes. The high energy of both these section unfortunately outshined the slower, yet beautifully executed Arabian section.
Also of note was the proficient and peppy dancing of Alexandra Farber, Robin Bangert and Dustin Geradine as the Mirlitons. The three worked as a well oil machine as Geradine manipulated both females in a series of rotations on pointe and arabesque holds.
The Waltz of the Flowers contained some visually pleasing formation changes and picture perfect moments as the flowers took turns leaping across the stage in their wispy pink tutus. The romantic grande pas de deux mentioned earlier was a memorable way to end the show.
Overall Texas Ballet Theater did an admirable job of engaging a much younger audience without neglecting their more technique-minded patrons.
» Texas Ballet Theater's The Nutcracker continues through Dec. 8 at the Winspear; and then moves to Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Dec. 13-24. Also, don't miss the annual Nutty Nutcracker, Dec. 20 at Bass Hall.
» This review originally ran in World Arts Today
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com.