Richardson — The weather was much more cooperative than last weekend for the Dallas Repertoire Ballet’s (DRB) annual production of The Nutcracker Friday evening at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. Creative dance numbers laced with challenging technique and visually pleasing props were all highlights of last year’s Nutcracker, and DRB didn’t disappoint with this year’s performance.
Choreographers Kathy Willsey, Megan Willsey Buckland and Audrey Rusher Mitts have that opening party scene down to a science. They replaced a lot of the gesturing typically seen (lots of hugging and air kisses) with more dancing. When Clara and her friends curtsy to one another they do it with a grande battement and soutenu turn. Pique arabesques and fast bourrees were executed with an exactness and finesse befitting a professional. It was also nice to see so many dancers working on pointe. If you got it, flaunt it and these young ladies have the foot strength and dexterity.
Most Claras dance very little in the first act and sit for most of the second act, but that was not the case with company member Alexandra Politz, age 17. Her natural grace and polished pointe work were featured throughout the show, including some lovely pas de deuxs with the Nutcracker Prince (guest artist Eric Coudron). While Politz’s maturity made her fascination with the toy Nutcracker a little less believable, it didn’t stop her from shining on stage.
The choreographers took the more comedic route with the battle scene and added a twist with the Rat Pack. The diva, the bookworm, the grandfather and the troublemaker drew laughs from the audience as they fought alongside the Rat King (Emma Voorhies). Kudos to whoever made the decision to have the Rat King and the Rat Pack perform in pointe shoes. In other productions the rats typically shuffle along in oversized costumes, but DRB again played to its strengths and used clean pointe work to keep the fight scene from becoming convoluted.
Executive Director Kathy Willsey also took a risk using one of her own dancers for the Snow Queen role (often played by guest artist professionals), which in the end paid off. Mackenzie Voorhies was a vision in white as she fluttered across the stage in a series of bourrees, sliding into an arabesque hold with the help of her Snow King (guest artist David Freeland). The pair were well-matched in terms of build and prowess. They ate up the stage in their turning sequences and executed lift after lift without pause. While Voorhies sometimes tightened her shoulders in the press up lifts, there was an undeniable ethereal quality about her.
The snow dance was absolutely exquisite. No less than 30 dancers flew across the stage creating some of the most intricate weaving and circling formations I have seen in this dance. The little sparkling pompoms the dancers carried enhanced the moments when only the wrists were moving, resembling snow falling.
The refined, uniformed dancing continued in the second act where Clara and her Prince are welcomed to the Land of Snow by the Sugar Plum Fairy (company member Megan Schonberg) and Cavalier (guest artist Jamal White). Don’t mistake Schonberg’s lithe shape for fragility. Her pointe work was sharp and deliberate and she could turn on a dime. Even though White’s extensions didn’t quite reach past his toes, he has amazing charisma and was a very intuitive partner. If Schonberg started to lean a little to the left in her multiple pirouettes, White simply readjusted his hold.
All the cultural dances in the second act were fun and exciting. Hannah Morris gave a spunky performance in the Spanish Chocolate number while Bella Rusli showed off her controlled jumps in the Chinese Tea section. Grace Ludwinski displayed her flexibility in a series of backbends and behind the head leg extensions with the assistance of David Freeland in the Arabian dance. Eric Coudron took on the role of Russian Baba and performed a number of nimble toe touches much to the audiences delight.
But none of these solo performances would have been complete without the help of the dance corps. Most noteworthy were the Arabian corps’ slowly descending splits, the Reed Pipers’ manipulations with the ribbons, the candy canes spinning hula hoops and, of course, the gorgeous arching wreaths in the Waltz of the Flowers.
Like the snow scene, the Waltz of the Flowers was dreamy yet dynamic. Soft turning balances were followed by lighting quick pique turns. Politz and Coudron performed a quick yet energetic pas de deux before Schonberg and White entered for the grande pas deux. Props to Schonberg for handling those slow arabesque turns and over the shoulder pitches without hesitation. There was some tricky choreography in that section and both she and White handled it with ease.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com