The days after Thanksgiving are a time to kick the holiday season into high gear, and in addition to inundating stores for Black Friday shopping, many Metroplexers flooded the theaters for one of the myriad of Nutcrackers that opened this weekend. Chamberlain Performing Arts closed their holiday run of the ballet at The Eisemann Center in Richardson on Sunday.
Featuring New York City Ballet principals Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle, the performance finds its strength in the intricate choreography and technical precision of many of its dancers.
Set in 19th-century Germany, the performance opens with several large families journeying to the Stahlbaum abode for their annual extravagant Christmas party. Since the festivities are mainly for the children, gift-giving is the highlight of the evening—dolls for the girls, trumpets for the boys, life-sized dolls dancing around the room, and a nutcracker for Clara Stahlbaum (Bethany Greenho), all compliments of Herr Drosselmeyer (Valentine Liberatore).
After the party, a bit of magic turns the night into a fantastic adventure. Upon being attacked by mice, Clara’s nutcracker comes to life and summons his soldiers to protect the young girl against the Rat King (Richard Condon). Clara distracts her enemy long enough for the Nutcracker (Blaine Quinne) to defeat him, and her hero is transformed into a prince (Maxwell Capper). The two set off for the Kingdom of Sweets where they are rewarded for their feats with a lively array of dancing.
When the company is good, they are very good. When they’re not, the show is positively dull.
Take the party scene for example. Choreography is fairly simple and straightforward, favoring clean, elegant dances over a mish-mash of simultaneous scenarios, but something is missing. The individual sections lack spark and the humorous moments are few and far between. Whether it’s the choreography itself or a case of “matinee syndrome,” the segment falls flat. Things improve a bit with the battle scene, as Quinne’s dancing brings a bit of spunk to his character, but as a whole the piece doesn’t live up to its calling as a suspenseful fight sequence.
The snow scene rises more to the standards Chamberlain sets for itself. Segment choreographers Lisa Hess Jones and Mishic Liberatore make great use of the large stage with sophisticated floor patterns. The sweeping movements of the snowflakes coupled with the engaging petit allegro give the variation an enjoyable depth. Much of the time, the dancers are very exact with the technical work; when they’re not, however, it’s extremely noticeable due to the difficulty of the choreography.
The second act in the Kingdom of Sweets only builds on the surge of the snow scene. Whelan as the Sugar Plum Fairy dazzles with her fluidity, and Angle as her Cavalier captivates with just a single gesture.
The lively Spanish variation, performed in character shoes instead of en pointe, actually works pretty well; Jones brings another dimension to the dance.
Dallas Blagg, who as the Snow King merely acted as a support for the Snow Queen instead of actually dancing, gets his chance to shine in the Arabian variation with Louisa Liles. Unlike most stagings, this sequence features more male dancing and less involved partnering. While the sensuality is somewhat lost, Blagg’s sustained control makes up for it.
The Chinese variation, with Luke Yee and his four back-up dancers, proves to be very smooth and well-thought out. Precision and timing look nice; it’s a shame the sequence is so short.
The Marzipan segment and Waltz of the Flowers both boast very elaborate maneuvers and floor patterns, but the issue of detail pops up again. When the dancers hit the movements with the pristine sharpness and perfect timing required of the choreography (which for the most part they did), it’s a sight to behold. The times where it gets off, though, are cringe-worthy. McKenna Karnes as the Dewdrop fares better in this role than as the Snow Queen.
Sandwiched between those are the crowd-pleasing Russian variation and Mother Ginger segment. The former features a stellar trio of men (Travis Morrison, Kyle Schlaefer, and Blaine Quinne) performing a variety of energetic turns, leaps, coffee grinders and toe touches. The latter shows us another side of Liberatore as a very vain but hilarious Mother Ginger as she directs the plethora of children coming out of her large skirt.
As for the grand pas de deux…well, it’s Whelan and Angle. Of course it’s astounding. Angle, especially, lights up the theater with his presence.
Heart-broken that you had to miss a Nutcracker over the weekend? Not to fear, as a multitude of magical ballets will make their way this weekend to a venue near you.
◊ Read Cheryl Callon's essay about her history with The Nutcracker here.
◊ To see listings for more Nutcrackers, go to our listings page on TheaterJones, here. Click the large gold search box, the one with the magnifying glass, to the right of "Events & Performances" and you'll get another box with search options. In the "article category" dropdown, select "dance" and then the "search listings" button. You'll get a list of all the local upcoming dance performances, most of which, right now, is The Nutcracker. (You can also type "nutcracker" into the "performance title" box and hit the "search listings" box, or enter.)