Richardson — Children of all ages and their families packed the Eisemann Center in Richardson last weekend for Tuzer Ballet’s 30th anniversary production of The Nutcracker. Founded in 1984 by Tanju and Patricia Tuzer as the resident company of the Tuzer Dance School, the organization has earned a reputation for solid, disciplined dance instruction, and their productions have received critical acclaim. In addition to having Boston Ballet dancers Rie Ichikawa and Carlos Molina dance the snow duet and grand pas de deux, several Southern Methodist University dance students perform feature roles, which provides a nice range of talent to this show.
The ballet begins (as usual) with a party. The Stahlbaums are throwing their annual Christmas shindig and none could be happier than their two children, Marie (Rebecca Grace Moore) and Fritz (Nicholas Ady). Presents, food, and drink bring the festivities to a high point, but pale in comparison to the wonders of Herr Drosselmeier (Tanju Tuzer). Magic tricks, dolls that come to life, and a sprightly lion thrill the children, but the greatest gift is the nutcracker doll presented to Marie.
The magic continues after the party, as mice and soldiers battle it out under the Christmas tree, headed up by the Queen Rat (Jasmine de LaCruz Simpson, in a thrilling twist) and the Nutcracker Prince (Marcus Takuya Riley). The Queen Rat is defeated, and Marie and her prince travel through a wintery wonderland to the Kingdom of the Sweets, where dancers of the court entertain them. But all good things must come to an end, and Marie drifts off to sleep as Drosselmeier reads her a story.
Visually, the production is lovely. A beautiful set livens up the party scene, and intricately adorned costumes add a touch of magic. Mysterious lighting design enhances the battle scene, creating an ominous mood to what is typically a silly, cartoonish segment.
Interesting character and staging choices bring nuance to the classic. The addition of two cadets as party guests raises the technical excellence of an already well-executed scene. The Queen Rat actually enters the party in human form, developing more continuity between the party and battle scenes. Gorgeously clad wood fairies tend to Marie before she enters the Kingdom of Sweets.
Moore proves to be a lovely Marie. A Tuzer alum and SMU student, she captures the childlike wonder needed of the character and has the technical chops to handle the choreography. Riley, another alumnus, is the biggest surprise of the evening. He stunned audiences with his role as a cadet in the party scene and demonstrates even more excellence as the Nutcracker Prince. Both receive the opportunity to shine in Act II, as they have additional dancing roles while in the Kingdom of Sweets.
Divertissments tend to be hit or miss with pre-professional companies, but Tuzer pulls out a few surprises. A trio of ladies for the Spanish segment (Jennifer Grahnquist, Malia McNeny, Summer Myatt) delivers a surprisingly tight and spunky dance. Timing is impeccable, and performance quality is top-notch. Zach Biehl and Christopher Dorsey produce an impressive Russian variation with a sense of ease and lightness, given the explosive music and movement. The dancers in “Waltz of the Flowers” shine during a section that tends to be quite difficult.
The featured guests surprise as well, but not in a pleasing way. While they demonstrate the technical capacity, their performance qualities as the snow king and queen and the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier are quite disappointing. Ichikawa lacks consistency in her performance and is missing the joyful, effortless quality, while Molina exhibits very little engagement with the audience. It seems odd, given their positions in the Boston Ballet, so this is likely chance occurrence.
Overall, Tuzer Ballet has an enchanting production on its hands. Judging from its current dancers and wealth of alumni, the school is doing something right in Richardson. It’ll be interesting to see where the company goes from here, given the recent news of Tanju’s cancer diagnosis, but he has built a strong legacy that is sure to endure.