On the one hand, there are there gorgeous costumes in jewel tones, an angel who flies down from the high ceiling, and a giant onion box with doors, out of which pop Columbine and Harlequine. On the other hand, we have the same boisterous Christmas Eve crowd at the Stahlbaums.
Yes, this is Ben Stevenson's The Nutcracker, revamped, but principally through new scenery and costumes, courtesy of Ballet Florida and a generous gift from Miss Marie Hale and Dr. Edward W. Sandall. The Texas Ballet Theater production has moved to Fort Worth's Bass Hall, where it runs through Dec. 23.
Otherwise, it's mayhem as usual. Fritz terrorizes his sister Clara by swinging a dead rat over her head, the prankster Grandfather brandishes a rifle at every opportunity, the ancient aunt joins the dance holding a horn to her ear and is forever out of step, and of course, the fat girl pulverizes her rag doll. The sober adults try—in vain—to rein in the antics, but what can you do when every boy is naughty and the Grandfather has returned to childhood with a vengeance?
What is new to the scene are the giant onion box, the angel descending from on high after all the party guests have departed, more angels on the ground who glide on what seem to be invisible rollers, and small toy soldiers and even smaller mice. Replacing adults in the role of soldiers and mice and giving the roles to children makes the ballet even more child-oriented—and better still because the toy soldiers are danced by boys from Texas Ballet Theater School. (The big rats, or course, are still adults—on pointe.)
And although Clara is played by company member Allisyn Hsieh, she is such a delight, so spirited and wide-eyed, that we almost don't mind that it is not a real 11-year-old playing the part.
If the battle scene between the Nutcracker and King Rat loses some of its power because the last bit of action takes place along a narrow stage, the disappointment is somewhat ameliorated by the snow scene that follows. The space for the battle had to be relinquished in order to make time to put up the stunning sets for the Land of Snow.
In this magical forest, the Snow Queen (a shimmering Carolyn Judson in the performance viewed for this review; all major parts have different casting throughout the run) bourrées down a long angled pathway covered with snow, with ribbons of ice above and in the background, towering trees. Having been whisked off in a sleigh into this snow-covered land, Clara is enchanted, and soon she is darting among the Snowflakes.
More delights follow in the Kingdom of Sweets, a delicate, airy world with a Russian-domed pergola on one side, and a Thai-style pergola on the other. Clara runs from one little cook in apron to the other to sip from the enormous ice-cream float, or poke a finger into a cake. Her real reward, however, comes when the Sugar Plum Fairy (a dewy Betsy McBride) appears from behind the throne. When the Sugar Plum Fairy steps down, she beckons for dancers from many lands to perform for Clara.
Like the flying angel, other characters are whisked in from suspended supports, two Chinese from ropes and the Arabian couple from Aladdin's magic carpet. It is the more earthbound Mirlitons, however, who offer the greatest charm. In costumes of gray and peach, Max Caro dances side by side with Kelly Kristen Farris and Heather Kotelenets, sometimes offering a hand as he slowly rotates one after the other in attitude derrière. The effect is that of a spinning, jewel-like music box. At the end, Ms. Farris and Kotelenets kneel on one leg and Mr. Caro springs up like a comet.
As the Sugar Plum Fairy, Ms. McBride is quite lovely, if not quite scintillating in her solo to the tinkling sound of the celesta. On the other hand, when she bourrées away from the Prince (Carl Coomer), the bourrées are so tiny and delicate they suggest diamond dust.
For all its splendor and brilliance, alas, this Nutcracker still has to do with taped music for Tchaikovsky's melodic score.
◊ Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill and Dance Magazine.
◊ On Friday, Dec. 21, TBT presents what has become an annual hit, The Nutty Nutcracker.