Can a ballet be short, yet at the same time run for two hours? It can if it's Ben Stevenson's new production of The Nutcracker presented by Texas Ballet Theater at AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House, where it plays for two weekends before its longer run at Fort Worth's Bass Performance Hall.
With completely redesigned sets and costumes and some new choreography, the spectacle has the power to transport even the most hardened skeptic into the world of shimmer and sweets.
One thing Stevenson didn't mess with, however, is the story. It's still a typical Nutcracker. Clara Stahlbaum (Alexandra Farber) receives the gift of a nutcracker at her family's annual Christmas party. Later that evening everything becomes larger-than-life under a giant Christmas tree. As mice attack, her beloved doll comes to life with his entourage of soldiers to protect her. The mice parade their king who battles (and loses to) the Nutcracker. The life-sized doll transforms into a prince (Lucas Priolo), who takes her to the Kingdom of Sweets for a dazzling array of diverse entertainment.
Part of the wonder and excitement comes from the surprises which Stevenson masterfully unveils. Instead of giving a run-down of the performance and risk spoiling the magic, here are just a few reasons (in no particular order) why it is imperative that you carve time out of a busy holiday schedule to see it.
1. Party Scene
A typical party scene can either be the highlight of the show or the part that never ends, depending on whether you're the parent of a child in the cast or one wanting to see the real dancing. If you're the type to view this part as just a means to get to Act II, then you might be pleasantly surprised. The elegant new set allows for the usual bedlam of bodies to be somewhat dispersed, so that the potential haphazard feeling of a crowded stage is lessened. The best part about this scene, though, is how well-thought out and well-rehearsed it is. Each little vignette portraying the goings-on of a party is deliberately performed and perfectly timed with the music. Every cast member knows his or her part and executes it wonderfully.
2. Snow Scene
One of the biggest changes comes with the snow scene at the end of Act I. Without revealing too much of the goodness, let's just say that gone are the days of a simple backdrop with bodies clad in all white floating about an empty stage. The joy doesn't stop with the set and costuming, though; the snow prince gets more time in the spotlight. Carl Coomer gives us another superior performance as he seems to defy gravity with his sissones. One downside: snowflakes do not need jazz hands.
3. Improved divertissements
The Spanish variation goes through the extreme makeover. The six cast members don costumes beautifully blended with brown, orange and red. Allisyn Hsieh looks exceptionally classy with the spicy choreography. Alexander Kotelenets and Katelyn Clenaghan bring more steam to the same Arabian choreography, and the lovely lady of the duo procures quite a few gasps with her amazing feats of flexibility. The astonishment, however, arrives with the couple's entrance and sets the tone for the rest of the mystical dance.
4. Manly men—and one not quite so
Coomer isn't the only TBT man who appears to defy gravity, and Stevenson seems to enjoy showing off those company members with the Chinese and Gopak (Russian) variations. Drake Humphreys and Joamanuel Velazquez convey a feeling of stopped time as they duel and jump of each other in a slower Chinese sequence. Thomas Kilps garners the most applause with his jaw-dropping turns, floor work, and leaps for an all-new Russian segment.
Paul Adams receives accolades, as well, but for a different reason. Dressed as Madame Bonbonaire (large skirt and all), he just about steals the attention away from a very talented ensemble of dancers from the TBT school who play her children. Paul, if you ever have aspirations of auditioning for Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, you'd probably go far.
5. Grand Pas de Deux
As the climax of Act II and containing the most memorable music of the ballet, the grand pas de deux is one last hurrah before the curtain falls on an amazed Clara. The costume for the Sugar Plum Fairy this year boasts a beautifully deep maroon, but the harmonious sequence of choreography remains stunning as usual.
As for Carolyn Judson as the Sugar Plum Fairy, (who danced the role at the performance reviewed; she alternates with Betsy McBride), someone must have replaced her with a doll or maybe one of those ballerina figurines found in every little girl's jewelry box. With the way Priolo swings her around and tosses her in the air and their meticulously controlled partnering, one might think she was inhuman. Only her delighted facial expressions gave any hint that she might be fallible flesh-and-blood and not a ballerina-bot.
It was at the end of the duet that I suddenly realized in shock that the ballet was almost over. Where did the time go?
The Nutcracker is performed:
- Through Dec. 2 at the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas
- Dec. 7-23 at Bass Hall. There will also be the return of the popular "The Nutty Nutcracker" at Bass Hall, at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 21.
Click here to see our listing with times and more info.