Fort Worth — Ballet Frontier of Texas opens up the Fort Worth The Nutcracker season with their presentation of the holiday favorite at the Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium. Their reputation for quality performances has garnered them an increased touring schedule this year, as they will travel to Waco to once again perform with the Waco Symphony Orchestra, and to Granbury for a run at the Granbury Opera House. In the 10 years since the company was founded, their season and outreach has grown dramatically.
The show begins with the familiar overture, then the curtain opens on a gaggle of children dancing their way to the Stahlbaum party. At the house, Clara (Audrey Williamson) decides on party dresses while her rambunctious brother Fritz (Cayden Rice) wreaks havoc. Once the party guests enter, festivities for adults and children provide moments for ensemble choreography are simple but clean. Williamson proves a delightfully enchanting lead throughout the whole production, with equally brilliant performance and technical execution. Mr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum (Joshua Tingle and Nikki Farris, respectively) also provide satisfying depth to their roles.
The party livens with the arrival of Drosselmeyer (excellently played by a whimsical Michael Clark) and his plethora of mystical items. A puppet show and life-size dolls entertain, but his gift to Clara—a nutcracker doll—catches everyone’s eye the most. Fritz tries to take it, and winds up breaking the present. Drosselmeyer promptly fixes the doll and returns it to its distraught owner.
The end of the party and transition into the sleepy overnight hours of Clara’s dream bring about one of the unique and enjoyable aspects of BFT’s production—the mice. Not satisfied with generic monochromatic rodent attire, the artistic staff intricately dresses the large mice in individualized costumes of clichéd rural patterns. Overalls, patchwork plaid, and ragged edges add to the mice’s personalities, which the dancers play up with hilarious results. It brings some light into an overall lackluster battle scene between the Nutcracker and the Rat King.
Elizabeth Villarreal dances beautifully as the Snow Queen, partnered by artistic director Chung-Lin Tseng as the Snow King. Tseng displays magnificent stage presence, but his lifts with Villarreal look mostly unsure, with the exception of a one-armed lift that demonstrates his previous skills as an ice skater. A snow ensemble clad in Romantic-length tutus fare mostly well with the choreography.
Act II finds Clara and Fritz entering the Land of Sweets with the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kathryn Boren of American Ballet Theatre) and her Cavalier (Marlen Alimanov, formerly of Texas Ballet Theatre) greeting them and rewarding their battle bravery. Another departure the company takes from the usual structure is to have Boren and Alimanov complete their grand pas de deux solos before the divertissements begin. Both deliver fantastic performances with precision, clarity, and charm.
The seven divertissements all contain featured dancers with the younger performers acting as a corps de ballet. The resulting picture gets messy at times, but quite a few artists stand out. Elizabeth Dennen presents an exquisite Arabian segment with partner Diego Pulido, and Layla Terrell and Brayan Valencia demonstrate a sharp, lively Russian variation. For the “Dance of the Reed Flutes” segment, Victoria Trimble channels her acting skills as a shepherdess fending off a hungry but humorous wolf (Scotty Jones). Her herd of sheep presents some lovely precision, as well.
Sofia Warren charms as the Dewdrop fairy, rounding out a pretty decent “Waltz of the Flowers”. Boren and Alimanov return for the grand pas de deux adagio and final coda for a magnificent finish.
Ballet Frontier has seen some improvements over the years with their casting and guest artists, which results in their impressive ability to reach hundreds, if not thousands, more people each season.