Flower Mound — With stunning sets, exquisite dancing and live musical accompaniment provided by the Lewisville Lake Symphony, it’s no wonder LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s (LBT) annual production of the Nutcracker is one of the top items on people’s to do list every holiday season. This year’s Nutcracker performance was especially festive as it not only marked the company’s 25th anniversary of the holiday classic but was also the first time LBT sold out both showings at Marcus High School in Flower Mound this past weekend. This Nutcracker production also marks a transitional year for the company as many of its senior members graduated last spring, including Sydney Greene, Ali Honchell and Mackenna Pieper, giving members the opportunity to set up to the plate.
For those needing a refresher, the Nutcracker ballet is divided into two acts. The first includes a large party scene where our heroine Clara receives a Nutcracker doll from her Uncle Drosselmeyer. When Clara goes to sleep that night she dreams of a battle between the Rat King and her Nutcracker Prince and also the Kingdom of Sweets where couple’s from different nationalities, including Russia, China and Spain perform for the reigning couple. After the climactic Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier pas de deux, Clara returns to her bed where she awakens from this wondrous dream.
In LBT’s version, audiences are immediately pulled into the story as families heading to the Silberhaus’ annual Christmas party marched down the aisles and up onto the stage. Former English National Ballet dancer Kenn Wells (Herr Drosselmeyer) keeps the audience connected as he gestures to us to help him find the location of the party. Artistic Director Kelly Lannin’s fine eye for details, imaginative choreography and quirky sense of humor are on display throughout the party scene from the inventive adult and children dance sequences to Wells’ well-timed practical jokes and Mayor Silberhaus’ (Chuck Denton) over-the-top facial expressions especially after he ingests one too many holiday spirits. Not everyone may have noticed, but Denton also smoothly orchestrated almost every transition in the party scene from the lighting of the tree and the puppet show to the presentation of the Ballerina and Cadet dolls. Madeline Hanly and guest artist Ruben Gerding perfectly captured the doll’s unyielding forms with their pursed lips, angular arm gestures and jerky upper body movements.
Carly Greene shone in the role of Clara. Her natural grace and infectious personality were enhanced by her poignant pointe work and passionate character portrayal. Unlike other productions where Clara does very little after the first half, Lannin gives Greene many opportunities to flex her technical muscles throughout the show, much to the viewers delight. The only instance I am on the fence about is Lannin’s decision to feature Greene and guest artist Jack Wolff (Nutcracker Prince) at the beginning of the Snow Scene, a spot that is typically reserved for the Snow Queen and King pas de deux. Don’t misunderstand, Greene and Wolff nailed every single arabesque hold, assisted pirouette and various sustained body movements, but their performance just couldn’t match up to the exciting lifts and complex pointe work that Mackenna Pieper and Shannon Beacham have perfected over the years in their roles of Snow Queen and King. Pieper, who graduated last year, has left some hard shoes to fill and it will be interesting to see who rises to the challenge. Adult member Faith Jones’ super long legs and penchant for beautifully controlled movements would fit the role nicely as would Carley Denton’s commanding stage presence and regal posturing.
The cast carried the party vibe over into the second half with more lively and technically brilliant performances by both LBT company members and special guests Sarah Lane (American Ballet Theatre) and Daniel Ulbricht (New York City Ballet) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Denton was fun and flirty as the lead of the Spanish dancers, deftly guiding the rest of the corp, including Chloe Davis, Ashleigh Eaton, Kelsey Rhinehelder and Mikaela Seale through a series of rhythmic hands claps and fast foot work. Jones and Beacham displayed amazing control and dexterity in the Arabian dance especially when Jones bent backwards and held onto her foot while Beacham rotated her in a circle. Guest Artist Andre Harrington got the audience up and cheering with his consecutive back handsprings, while a surprise appearance by former Dallas Cowboys player Isaiah Stanback in the role of Mother Ginger sporting a Cowboys jersey and helmet on top of the large colorful skirt housing eight tiny dancers had the audience in stitches.
Lane and Ulbricht were sublime in the grand pas de deux at the end of the show. They executed the controlled promenades, ponche arabesques and shifting epaulement phrases in a calm and fluid manner. Lane’s breathy exhales during her multiple pirouettes and various jumping sequences made her moves appear bigger and bolder. Ulbricht’s incredible artistry and athleticism are well known in the ballet world. He eats up the space with his gravity defying jetes and barely makes a sound when he drops to his knee after performing consecutive tours en l’air.
Lannin and her team should be proud of the whimsical and welcoming Nutcracker production they have diligently fostered over the last 25 years. I’m looking forward to seeing how the younger dancers progress into the ballet’s more challenging roles in the coming years.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com