It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Nutcrackers at every week's end.
There's a few playing in Big D,
Some over in grand Cowtown
But one in Irving could become your friend.
That would be Ballet Ensemble of Texas, spreading the holiday cheer with The Nutcracker at the Irving Arts Center. As the resident company of the Ballet Academy of Texas, it's one of the many performing groups in the Metroplex nurturing rising talent.
This tale of Clara Silberhaus and her adventures with mice, soldiers, a prince and some sweets has its ups and downs but finds an advantage in its cast members. But, the show is not just about dancing.
Visually, the production is fairly mediocre. While a grand chandelier greets the audience at the beginning of the party scene, the Silberhaus' living room is minimally dressed. Backdrops for the rest of the ballet are tolerable, and sometimes the lighting makes the set and costume colors blend unappealingly.
Costumes are a mixed bag. In many sections, they add enough pizzazz to pick up the slack from the other production shortcomings. The "Waltz of the Flower" dresses, though, differ from the usual pink and green by exuding a dull yellow lightly flecked with jewel-toned flowers. The overall design and color scheme tend to make the dancers blur together under the lights.
As with many performances where members of the associated school perform alongside the company members, the production in some places tends towards a recital feel, which breaks the continuity. The party scene has large chunks of dancing instead of intricate storytelling and acting, and while the large group sequences are fairly clean, the segment just feels like it's moving from dance to dance.
The Mirliton variation tends to look awkward with eight stiff-legged corps members in soft shoes performing alongside a soloist on pointe danced beautifully by Masumi Yoshimoto; it's kind of disappointing that she doesn't have more prominent choreography for the section.
The Academy, though, is doing something right with its boys. Kei Jay Takahashi as Fritz and later in the Russian variation explodes with intensity rare for his age. Michael Garcia in the Spanish sequence shows a very mature performance quality and promising technical ability. As the Nutcracker Prince, Aldrin Vendt spins and leaps with gusto.
But, let's not forget the ladies. Although so many exhibit the right proportion of technical clarity and shining performance quality, a few stand out above the rest. Shimmering as the Snow Queen, Courtlyn Hanson's joy and passion make the unnatural movements of ballet appear surprisingly organic. Anna Lee Green gracefully brings the sweeping fluidity needed for the Dewdrop fairy. Both ladies have developed a wonderful sense of timing dynamics that is sure to mature with time. Fourteen-year-old Yuki Takahashi delivers a remarkable performance as Clara that contains the right amounts of youthful innocence and precise dancing.
The Act II divertissements as a whole tend to be hit or miss, but all show great promise. The Arabian is a hit, although the choreography is rather simple. Melissa Anderson and Katie Cheng convey a soothing mystique supported by the strength of Terrence Johnson.
One of the biggest surprises of the evening comes with the unknown Hungarian variation. Comprised of young ladies in folk costumes, the dance starts out with a slow, steady tempo. Just when it starts to grow dull, though, the timing and the dancers kick it into high gear, aided by an audience clapping to the beat.
"Waltz of the Flowers" has some wonderful moments, but with such a large group, the timing and precision bobbles really stand out. The aforementioned costumes do little to help the matter.
The Grand pas the deux falls a little flat, as well. Allyson March as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Dallas Blagg as her Cavalier both display clean technique, but they each lack a spark.
Regardless of the shortcomings, it's worth seeing the production to get a glimpse of the stellar young talent of Ballet Ensemble of Texas.