Richardson — Collin County Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker arrives earlier than in previous years. Usually they’re one of the last ones to perform, but last weekend at the Eisemann Center in Richardson, artistic directors Kirt and Linda Hathaway presented their holiday rendition with live accompaniment by the Plano Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leslie Dunner.
The ballet takes us back to 19th century Germany where guests eagerly arrive at the Silberhaus home for a magnificent Christmas party. Gifts and merriment abound, but the most delightful present is a nutcracker, bestowed unto Clara Silberhaus (Emma Grace Bourgeois) by her uncle, Herr Drosselmeyer (Kirt Hathaway). After the guests have departed and everyone falls asleep, Clara wakes to find rats scurrying about, doing the bidding of the King Rat (Lauren Gonzales). Fortunately, her nutcracker doll comes to life (Noah Klarck) and with her help, defeats the enemy. A fantastic journey through the Land of Snow and the Lemonade Sea culminates with a visit to the Kingdom of Sweets where guests from around the world entertain her.
A couple of things stick out about this performance. First is the slight shortage of young men for the party scene. Madeleine Milner dances the part of Clara’s brother Fritz, with pretty good results, and Lauren Tanghongs delivers a strong Soldier Doll variation. Secondly, segments of the ballet that are usually outstanding fall flat this time, while other parts that have delivered consistent timing or performance issues in the past prove some of the best moments. Perhaps it’s due to the date change, but many areas don’t seem as well-rehearsed as usual.
The energy of the party scene never really takes off. Part of it lies with the orchestra, as the timing drags and remains inconsistent. Technically, the dancing moments turn out well, but the performance quality of all involved doesn’t reach the heights it has before. Bourgeois maneuvers through lovely arabesques, but she needs more emotion in reaction to the party antics. One bright moment arrives with the dancing bears, one of the best things about CCBT’s production, as no one else in the Metroplex has large brown furry animals in tutus prancing about. “Oh, this is different,” exclaims a nearby patron in surprise.
The excitement rises in the battle scene, albeit with a messy ensemble, mostly due to a phenomenal Klarck. Gonzales hilariously flings about with bravado as the King Rat.
Usually the pinnacle of the snow scene is the King and Queen. Individually, Mark Nichols (guest artist from Arizona) and Kaley Jensen deliver strong technical work, but their partnering proves quite disappointing, especially since CCBT has the pair dancing throughout more of the snow scene than do other companies. The snow ensemble, in their shimmering iridescent dresses, dance quite well, better than usual.
Act II shines in comparison. The Lemonade Sea maidens with their Queen (Lauren Burr) display the usual charming scene, then comes some standout divertissements. Sophie Ludwig and Anna Torten Rabinowitz spice up the Spanish variation, while Brittany Chambers and Devrae Jefferson (guest artist from DBDT: Encore!) maneuver through at meticulously sumptuous Arabian duet, with a precise ensemble of Arabian princesses in the background.
The Merliton variation features a tightly woven quartet of ladies (Katelyn Benhardt, MacKenzie Fey, Aurelia Han, and Ansley Howard) with beaming smiles. A few bobbles spring up, but they prove their technical chops with segment of pique turns into fouettes. Micki Saba as Mother Ginger leads the mass chaos of cute little bakers before the best divertissement, “The Waltz of the Flowers.”
Han and Klarck as the Dew Drop and Cavalier, respectively, excite in the best moment of the entire ballet. The pair work wonderfully with deliberate, attentive partnering but equally impress with their solos.
Guest artists Bianca Bulle of Los Angeles Ballet Company and Carlos Quenedit from the San Francisco Ballet exhibit a pleasant pas de deux as the Sugar Plum Fair and Cavalier. Both deliver astounding pirouettes, and Bulle pristinely floats across the stage. They don’t appear as regal as one would expect, and although it’s technically superb, it lacks the extra dazzle befitting the roles.
While the performance quality overall differed greatly than in year’s past, CCBT still delivers a reputable Nutcracker, and audience members left happy and satisfied.