Review: The Nutcracker | Texas Ballet Theater

Nutcracker, Sweet!

Texas Ballet Theater kicks off the holiday season with its grand production of The Nutcracker at AT&T Performing Arts Center.

published Saturday, November 26, 2011

Since the days following Thanksgiving are geared towards shopping—with names like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday—why not escape the madness, the lines, and maybe even the violence surrounding electronic purchases by watching something happy? It's Nutcracker season again and DFW always has its fair share (and then some) of the often imitated and very much duplicated holiday classic. This weekend Texas Ballet Theater opened their Dallas run of The Nutcracker at the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. (It runs another weekend and then moves to Fort Worth's Bass Performance Hall Dec. 9-24.)

This is a pretty standard Nutcracker. Clara and her family host a Christmas party with attendees of all ages. Slight chaos and much comedy ensue with the emphasis being Drosselmeyer and his gift of the Nutcracker to Clara, which only gets broken by a jealous brother. Later that night when everyone is in bed, the Nutcracker and the Rat King duke it out flanked by soldiers and mice, respectively. The Nutcracker wins and takes Clara to the Kingdom of Sweets where themed dancers entertain her.

The first part of Act I is lively and fun with some pleasant surprises. The overture in this version is more entertaining than most, because Stevenson provides more differentiation of character in the party guests. The most surprising aspect, however, is Fritz Stahlbaum (Drake Humphreys), who impresses the audience with some pretty technical dancing not normally seen in that character. The stage does tend to get crowded given the frenzied nature of the party scene, but the audience always has a focal point throughout that segment. The only downsides to this part are the wind-up toys and the parents' dance. The toys always dance at the same time, and when they aren't partnering, it's difficult to split the attention between the two dancers. The parents' dance is a tad on the weak side, choreographically.

Next, the battle under the Christmas tree is where everything is supposed to be larger than life. Since TBT didn't utilize the children's cast for the mice and soldiers (like many companies do), the mice really are big. The costumes are a little overbearing, especially the incredibly long tails. The soldiers provide a nice strength to this part, although when the two groups fight, it downplays the main fight between the Rat King and the Nutcracker.

The snow scene is always a beautiful ending to the act, and Leticia Oliveira as the Snow Queen sweeps and spins around the stage like a thing of beauty. Lucas Priolo as the Nutcracker Prince gets a little upstaged by Oliveira, but performs wonderfully, nonetheless. The Romantic-style tutus of the snowflakes enhance their delicate and animated movements even more.

Act II continues the magic, but many of the divertissements from Act II tend to be hit or miss. The Spanish variation, while colorful and energetic, slightly lacks that last bit of zing because the ladies are not on pointe. The Arabian variation, typically an audience favorite regardless of the performing company, is the most disappointing. While this is a family-friendly show, the Arabian duet always has a mystique about it because it's has more sensuality rather than the usual peppiness of the other variations. Not much difference existed between the performance quality of the Arabian duet and the others. The Chinese martial arts duo is strong, but still not exciting as the music makes it out to be.

Luckily, the divertissements improve. Alexander Kotelenets receives applause even before he is finished with the Russian variation for his pike jumps, toe touches and other amazing feats typical of a Russian folk dance. The Waltz of the Flowers is striking with a few exceptions. Betsy McBride performs her role as lead flower with precision, but that quality makes her look a little stiff at times and her facial expression doesn't always look genuine. Carl Coomer as her cavalier does a wonderful job with the lifts, making her look like she's really floating.

The highlight of the ballet, the grand pas de deux, is absolutely stunning. Carolyn Judson as the Sugar Plum Fairy shows great sensitivity to the music with her delicate yet exact footwork in the female solo, and Lucas Priolo performs his usually magnificent yet seemingly weightless jumps with gusto. Together, they create a spell-binding effect with their adagio, which is danced with such control and sustainment that it looks like they're in slow motion at times.

TBT's version of the holiday classic is often said to be the best in DFW, and it many respects that's true. The company dancers are exceptionally good performers and technicians, and Stevenson's choreography provides humor in the right places and dazzles the audience throughout. While the show is not a perfect 10, it's definitely worth the time and money to make it a part of your holiday tradition.

  • Continues through Dec. 4 at the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas
  • Runs Dec. 9-24 at Bass Hall, Fort Worth
  • There will also be the return of the popular "The Nutty Nutcracker" at Bass Hall, at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 23.
  • ◊ You can see our complete list of area Nutcracker performances by typing Nutcracker in the keyword box in the "Find a Performance" bar at the top of the page. Then click the search button all the way to the right of that bar (or just press enter). Thanks For Reading


    ToscasKiss writes:
    Sunday, November 27 at 3:56PM

    I'd be interested to know what edits are made this year in Stevenson's NUTCRACKER. I'm not positive, but I think part or all of the repeat in the overture was cut out when I last saw it, and, very sadly, the couple of times I've seen his NUT grand pas de deux (once in the production, once in a variety show gala), it was also edited down, which was a shame, both in terms of the dance we were missing, but particularly because of the harm to the music, its flow and build.

    Mr. Stevenson (whom I greatly admire, respect and am glad we have leading TBT, just to be clear), seems to lean towards editing, shortening and tightening classical ballets, for better or worse, judging by his SWAN LAKE, NUTCRACKER, and CINDERELLA (haven't yet gotten to see his ROMEO & JULIET or SLEEPING BEAUTY but, given the length of those, I suspect they get pared a bit as well). I can understand some reasons for this, particularly with CINDERELLA, and he's certainly not alone in the practice; to some degree it's probably necessary just due to modern audiences, along with other reasons. But, given that NUTCRACKER is already a fairly short little piece (having started its life as only one half of a program, sharing the bill with an opera), I'd prefer it not be subject to many cuts.

    NUTCRACKER also sometimes gets burdened with the idea that it is "family fare," with folks bringing infants and toddlers, for whom sitting still, quiet and attentive is an unrealistic and unfair expectation, no matter how "fun" the piece they're attending. NUTCRACKER is not BARNEY, LIVE! or any kind of interactive, young kiddos' fare (not knocking such things, which have their place), and being quiet and appropriate through the whole show is not fun--or even possible--for a lot of the younger kids who get taken to it; their understandable reactions are not fun for the rest of us, especially if we've paid a fair bit for tickets, and are invested in seeing a good ballet, and hearing a great score (preferably with live orchestra). or children of a certain age, just the volume of the music can be very unpleasant (maybe painful?), and most of them are going to let us know about it. My point is that, if companies want to market their NUT as something to bring such kids to, then adjust it for them and advertise it as such. But don't cut down the real, full NUTCRACKER performances, in an effort to make them easier for the kids to sit through. Wow--I seem to wandered a bit. Happy holidays! <--(NO, I'm not waging war on Christmas.)

    Jimmy writes:
    Saturday, December 3 at 12:57AM

    I'm not sure what the author meant when he stated that "TBT didn't utilize the children's cast for the mice". The "Rats", with the exception of the King Rat, are all played by students of Texas Ballet Theater School Dallas. They range in ages from 13 to 17. The costumes are large and provide limited visibility. I believe that the young dancers do a remarkable job with the role, which could lead one to mistake the students for professional dancers. The Party Scene is busy, because there are multiple background stories being played out. I believe that many of the stories may not stand on their on as being significant; however, after watching many performance, I am always surprised when I discover a new piece of one of the sub stories. In addition, it amazing how all those little stories are synchronized together with the music.

    rob writes:
    Sunday, December 4 at 3:55PM

    Inexcusable lack of a live orchestra.

    ant smith writes:
    Saturday, December 17 at 2:28AM

    was extremely unhappy there was no live orchestra. i found there was no credit given to which version we were listening to and who played it. i believe there were cuts as the whole show was under 2 hours inclusive of 20min intermission. i loved the Principal Dancers. i didn't think there was anything remarkable about the VISION and DESIGN of the Production, and was not terribly happy with seeing Scene 1 Act 1 so light on actual DANCING! in fact the stage looked crowded muddled n messy. While i understand there are huge budget constraints on the company in the last few years, i was amazed though how much the tickets cost, (except for the upper galleries). I definitely came out of this Production somewhat baffled at what i was billed as a WORLD CLASS Ballet Co. on a happier note i am sure the performers n many many others in the audience LOVED this Production/Version.

    Stephen Jacobson writes:
    Monday, December 19 at 3:12PM

    I have seen many Nutcrackers over the years starting in 1973 and all have a slightly different variation to them but one constant is the music, the thing that keeps me coming back is that fact. The people who review these performances don't necessarily have an artist's bone in their body or know what's appealing to the average person.

    View the Article Slideshow
    Click or Swipe to close
    Nutcracker, Sweet!
    Texas Ballet Theater kicks off the holiday season with its grand production of The Nutcracker at AT&T Performing Arts Center.
    by Cheryl Callon

    Share this article on Facebook
    Tweet this article
    Share this article on Google+
    Share this article via email
    Click or Swipe to close
    views on theater, dance, classical music, opera and comedy performances
    news & notes
    reports from the local performing arts scene
    features & interviews
    who and what are moving and shaking in the performing arts scene
    season announcements
    keep up with the arts groups' upcoming seasons
    listen to interviews with people in the local performing arts scene
    media reviews
    reviews and stories on performing arts-related film, TV, recordings and books
    arts organizations
    learn more about the local producing and presenting arts groups
    performance venues
    learn more about the theaters and spaces where the arts happen
    keep up with fabulous ticket giveaways and other promotions
    connect to local arts crowdfunding campaigns
    post or view auditions and performing arts-related classes, services, jobs and more
    about us
    info on TheaterJones, our staff, what we do and how to contact us
    Click or Swipe to close
    First Name:
    Last Name:
    Date of Birth:
    ZIP Code:
    Your Email Address:
    Click or Swipe to close
    Join TheaterJones Around the Web

    Follow Us on Twitter

    Subscribe to our Youtube Channel

    Click or Swipe to close
    Search the TheaterJones Archives
    Use any or all of the options below to search through all of reviews, interviews, features and special sections. If you are looking for a an event, use the calendar section of this website. This search will not search through the calendar.
    Article Title Search:

    Description Search:
    TheaterJones Contributor:

    TheaterJones Section:

    Showing on or after:      Showing on or before:  
    Click or Swipe to close
    We welcome your comments

    I am discussing:  

    Your Name:
    Your Email Adress:

    please enter the text below and then click or tap SUBMIT :