Richardson — There are only a few Nutcracker productions that I would be willing to see year after year in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Chamberlain Performing Arts’ (CPA) annual The Nutcracker definitely makes the list based on the following criteria: Location, special guests and entertainment value.
Conveniently located right off Central Expressway and the President George Bush Turnpike, the Eisenman Center for Performing Arts is an easy drive for those living in North Dallas and Collin County. Parking is a breeze and there is no bad view of the stage anywhere in the 1,550-seat Hill Performance Hall, which was more than half full at CPA’s Saturday afternoon showing of The Nutcracker. The large stage easily accommodated all of the company’s vibrant set designs, including a portable sleigh, a large grandfather clock, and a twinkling Christmas tree that grows to twice its size during the show. Glitzy costumes in an array of festive colors and well-suited lighting as well as a reliable sound system all created a sturdy foundation for the CPA dancers and guests, which included Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle of New York City Ballet.
This is the fourth time I have seen Peck and Angle perform as The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier in CPA’s Nutcracker and these two crush these roles every year. Their musicality and performance quality undeniable as was evident in their lifts, dips and transitions between body frames in the grand pas de deux. Both demonstrated unyielding strength and control during their solo sections in which Peck effortlessly completes a series of piques in a large circle while Angle ate up the stage with his grand jetes and front and back traveling brises.
It was also a pleasant surprise to see Adrian Aguirre of Bruce Wood Dance in the Arabian variation and in the mighty role of Snow King. His upper body strength could have been used more for the ballet-inspired movement in the Arabian dance, which he proved capable of earlier in the lifts in the snow pas de deux with CPA’s company member Katherine Patterson. Patterson nailed the back arcs and fluttering arm movement that are signature of the Snow Queen and also appeared confident in the assisted turns and off-centered partnering poses with Aguirre.
Special guest Michael Stone did a nice job of guiding us through the party scene at the beginning with his younger, hipper interpretation of Herr Drosselmeyer. His exuberant pantomiming and quick walking steps kept the other performers, especially the adults, on their toes during their dance sequence. The children did well at following directions and drawing the audience’s attention to different parts of the stage. I would have liked to see the youngsters performing more rudimentary ballet travelling steps to get them from place to place instead of the shuffling runs they were doing. Their posture and turn out prove they are capable of more.
Andrea Ghisoli did a commendable job as Clara. She was strong and clear with her gestures and soft shoe work, but needs to continuing working on her feet so that they are pointed at all times even when she is pretending to sleep on the couch. Laila Aranha, Angela Fan, Selim Kim and Sara Ann Posey displayed beautiful epaulement during their petit allegro section in the party scene, but should also continue to work on strengthening and lengthening their legs moving forward.
Both Annika Haynes and Zander Magolnick excited the crowd with sharp hand and leg placements and clean turns as the ballerina and soldier doll while company member Bianca Burton brought a fresh perspective to the battle scene with her Rat Queen characterization. Her swishing hips and sassy tutu were a welcomed addition to the otherwise standard choreography, which featured militant formations and syncopated foot work and a short sword fight between Burton and The Nutcracker played by Brian Tseng.
The battle scene smoothly transitioned into the kingdom of snow where members of CPA’s senior company captivated the audience with their spritely pointe work, dynamite musicality and sparkling performance quality. The choreography really highlighted the dancers’ athleticism with its various jumping passes across the stage and complicated petit allegro jumps in center. The peak of the dance came when the dancers entered holding fans with large pom-pom balls on the end, which they flipped back and forth in time to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s well-known score as bubble snow started to fall.
The snow scene set the bar for the second half of the show, which did encompass more challenging technique and a wider range of dance styles, including contemporary, jazz, acrobatics and folk dance. After Clara and her prince take their seats in the kingdom of sweets, groups from around the world, including Russia, China, Spain and Asia took turns entertaining the couple with a cultural dance.
In the Spanish variation Rachela Distefano, Mika Eppstein, Elisabeth Housley, Cady Johnson, Avery Sifferman and Tori Tseng were fun and playful toward to the audience with their foot flicks, rolling shoulders and saucy skirt swishes. This playfulness was carried through to the Chinese variation where the dancers created some lovely living pictures such as the rotating flower using colorful oversized hand fans. Magolnick returned in the Russian group dance where he once again wowed us with his stamina with his repeated toe touches and triple turns while guest artist Jared Fletcher kept us laughing with his over-the-top gestures as Mother Ginger.
Rachel Weingarden had a little trouble finding her center during her open solo as the Dewdrop Fairy, but quickly found her balance and earned a round of applause for her breathy release after a series of fast chaines into an arabesque hold.
I appreciated the cohesiveness of the upper body lines of the roses (Housley, Lowe and Patterson) as well as their turnout when executing the adagio movement in the Waltz of the Flowers. The rest of the senior company captured the essence of the waltz with traveling triplet steps and swirling formation changes that ended in a dynamic group picture. In some places the dancers’ pointe work did not match the energy radiating from their arms, but that is something that can be corrected in the studio.
As mentioned earlier, Peck and Angle closed the show with their magnetic performance in the grand pas de deux, which will be one of the reasons I put CPA’s Nutcracker on my calendar for next year. In addition, the show’s finely-tuned setup from lighting and set changes to well-rehearsed children sections makes it a great bet for any family’s annual holiday dance tradition.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com