Irving — Oh, the weather outside was definitely frightful, but thankfully Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ (BET) presentation of The Nutcracker was worth the perilous drive that many performers and audience members surely braved. The company gave an engaging performance on Saturday to a packed house at the Irving Arts Center, complete with little girls in cute mice costumes, an abundance of young male dancers, a poetic Waltz of the Flowers and a dynamite grande pas de deux by guest artists Michele Gifford and Shea Johnson.
The production began at the Silberhaus’ annual Christmas party where their daughter Clara receives her beloved Nutcracker doll from her Uncle Drosselmeyer (Allan Kinzie). While the stage dressing was a little bare (a couch, chair and clock were the only props) it did provide the children and adult party guests with plenty of space to dance. Choreographers Lisa Slagle (also BET director), Allan Kinzie, Tammie Reinsch and Allison D’Auteuil Whitfield kept the party scene moving with basic yet visually pleasing ballet steps for the youngsters and clean pointe work for Clara (Kristen Wright) and the life-size dolls (Alise Newman, Victoria Pardo and Jimena Flores-Sanchez).
Even though she kept the same facial expression for most of performance, Wright is the most technically proficient Clara I have seen this season. Her strong, supple feet enabled her to execute multiple turns and pique arabesque holds with pizazz. Newcomer to BET William Sheriff was a pleasant surprise as the Nutcracker Prince with his great control over his long, limber body; as he becomes more mindful of his feet, Sheriff will be one to watch for.
The battle scene had everything you’d expect, from well-rehearsed sword play, bright lighting and smoke machines to twenty or so little dancers scampering across the stage in cute mice costumes. The action was quick-moving and transitioned smoothly into the snow scene. Snow Queen Natalie Tsay’s pointe work was a little clunky in some parts, but she made up for it with her captivating stage presence. Her Snow King (Blaine Quinn) was a solid and trustworthy partner. He executed those tricky traveling lifts with grace and confidence. The Snowflakes really stole the scene with their breezy movement, uniformed arm and leg placements and exquisite technique.
The second act displayed more of the company’s versatility especially in the Arabian, Chinese, Hungarian and Russian sections. Melissa Anderson, Kendall Glasgow and Sam Chadick showed they could handle the slower, more controlled movements required in the Arabian dance. Anderson and Glasgow also got to display their flexibility with their alternating floor splits. It was a challenge for power jumper Adam Rech to control himself in the Chinese dance, but he did it and even managed to get his heels down when he landed. While the timing was off in some parts of the Hungarian number it did show the company’s understanding of folk dancing which includes a lot of unified stomping and clapping.
Now, what BET has that a other companies don’t is a strong group of young male dancers. This was made abundantly clear in the crowd pleasing Russian dance. Roman Mejia, Aldrin Vendt, Akihiro Yoshimoto, Adam Phillips and Kei Jay Takahashi pulled off an exhilarating number filled with double tour en l’airs, turns in second and round houses.
Like the snow scene, the Waltz of the Flowers was truly poetic. The dancers simply skimmed across the floor in a series of bourrees. The choreography was packed with constant direction changes and opposing head and arm movements; giving off the illusion that we were watching moving snapshots. Masumi Yoshimoto (Dew Drop Fairy) and demi-soloists Abby Granlund, Breanne Granlund, Ripley Mayfield and Yuki Takahashi gave solid and soulful performances.
The highlight of the show was the technically flawless performance Michele Gifford (Sugar Plum Fairy) and Shea Johnson (Cavalier) gave in the grande pas de deux. Gifford and Johnson nailed every turning arabesque hold and difficult shoulder lift without a qualm. Gifford’s unending extensions and Johnson’s boundless amounts of energy in his turning grande jete section earned applause from the audience. It was a great night for both these seasoned professionals.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com