Fort Worth — Ballet Frontier of Texas has many reasons to be jolly this holiday season. For one the company delivered another clean and captivating Nutcracker performance to an almost sold-out crowd Saturday afternoon at Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. And, for the first time since I started reviewing this group’s holiday show three years ago, the role of Snow Queen was danced by two of BFT’s younger company dancers, Mickayla Carr and Anastacia Snyder.
Both Carr and Snyder have shown immense technical and artistic growth over the last few years, and it was great to see their hard work and dedication being rewarded. It was also nice to see so many familiar local faces playing lead roles, including Shane Howell (Texas Ballet Theater), Kenta Taniguchi (Texas Christian University) and Libby Kroeger (Ballet Concerto). Kathryn Boren, who gave a stunning performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy, is also from Dallas and trained at the Ballet Academy of Texas before joining American Ballet Theatre.
Subtle changes to the set design and choreography in the opening party scene helped prevent traffic congestion, which in the past has distracted viewers from the action happening center stage. Choreographer Chung-Lin Tseng accomplished this task with smaller groups for the children’s dances and well-timed stage entrances and exits for everyone as well as extending the action that occurred in front of the mesh scrim during the overture.
With less clutter around the stage, the performers were able to spread out more and make their movements bigger. The adults attacked their Waltz dance steps with new vigor and the youngest dancers performed their chasse sauté combinations and pirouettes with practiced grace and confidence. Company trainee Alexis McKee did a commendable job in her role of Clara. Her body would tense up periodically (probably due to nerves) which in turn caused some of her movements to appear timid and also prohibited her extensions from elongating further. However, her confidence and movement quality grew as the first act progressed, and by the Snow Scene she was executing her chaines and jete leaps with more passion and precision. Andrew Coffey continues to prefect the role of Nutcracker Prince with higher leaps and bolder body positions.
BFT’s Snow Scene is still a crowd favorite. The Snowfairies, which for this performance included company members Angel Pugh, Jacey Thompson and Elizabeth Villarreal, completely embodied Tchaikovsky’s pulsating score down to their springy pointe work and fluttering hand gestures. The group’s complex jumping sequences and ever changing arm and body placements were perfectly in sync. Youth Company Trainees Marcella Moreno, Katelyn Sims, Fiona Shields, Layla Terrell and Gabriela Yarbrough pushed themselves to be musically on par with the older company members especially in the opening crisscrossing sauté, saut de basque, grande jete combination.
Terrell in particular drew the audience in with her dynamic movement quality and infectious smile. She is going to be one to watch out for in the coming years. The group also displayed great stamina during the petit allegro section where their legs and upper bodies were working in opposition as they fluidly changed formations.
Snyder’s ethereal performance as the Snow Queen was enhanced by Shane Howell’s initiative partnering skills. He smoothly led her through the tricky reverse promenades, controlled under armed rotations and assisted pirouettes, which were rewarded with generous applause. And in those few instances where Snyder got stuck because her weight wasn’t evenly distributed, Howell would quickly adjust his hold enabling Snyder to finish her line. The confident manner in which the couple approached the over-the-head lifts and controlled counterbalance poses are a testament to the dancer’s extensive partnering training and Tseng’s personal nuances when it comes to setting pas de deuxs.
The second half featured even more festive dancing as the audience was transported to the land of sweets where couples from different countries, including Spain, Russia, China and the Middle East presented traditional dance routines to Clara and her prince. Maria Howard had just the right balance of sweetness and sass in the Spanish number. Mickayla Carr made easy work of the Chinese role’s multiple toe touches and turning sequences and maintained the rigid upper body positions the entire time. The Arabian dance lacked some of the acrobatic tricks audiences have come to expect, but Pugh and Howell did demonstrate incredible control and limberness especially in the shoulder sit lifts and lengthy arabesque holds. And Emma Heroman and Kenta Taniguchi got the crowd cheering with their well-executed and synchronized fouette turns in the Russian section.
The highlight of the whole afternoon was the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier pas de deux with ABT dancer Kathryn Boren and BFT Principal Dan Westfield. The couple breathed new life into these well-worn roles with their technical fortitude and impressive stage presence. Taller than the average ballerina, this didn’t stop Boren from performing the required lightning-fast pique turns and entrechat jumping sequences with zeal. Her long limbs and supple feet also made for some stunningly beautiful body shapes and extensions. And Westfield continues to live up to his reputation as a ballet beast. His blending of explosive leaps with soft landings and graceful gesturing constantly kept the audiences on its toes.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com
» See our list of local Nutcrackers here