Texas Ballet Theater’s annual production of The Nutcracker is filled with theatrical comedy, classical ballet, and entertaining special effects not often seen in most renditions of this holiday favorite.
The company goes all out with gorgeous backdrops, large moving props, smoke machines, and a flying sleigh at their Dallas home, the state-of-the-art Winspear Opera House (their Fort Worth home is Bass Performance Hall).
The opening party scene started promising at the Dec. 1 show. Two staircases flanking on the stage brought dimension and provided performers with a larger space to dance. Though it lacked any challenging dance technique –– there was a lot of walking and gesturing –– the slapstick comedy, injected by choreographer (and the company’s artistic director) Ben Stevenson, was a hit as it is each season. A clumsy grandfather, for example, a hard of hearing grandmother, and prankster brother got the biggest roars.
As an angelic-looking Clara, dancer Aoi Takahashi, dressed in a white flowing nightgown, had a lovely youthful air about her and competent pointe work. Drake Humphreys looked a bit too old to play the annoying younger brother, but his enthusiasm and strong technique was undeniable.
The most commanding presence at party scene was Carl Coomer as Dr. Drosselmeyer. Only a consummate pro like Coomer can draw in the audience with the slightest flick of his wrist as he hands Clara her Nutcracker.
The story and dancing gain momentum in the raucous battle scene where the men displayed strength and stamina as the Nutcracker’s soldiers. And there’s plenty of action. The sword fighting, between the Nutcracker (Adam Boreland) and the Rat King (Paul Adams), was enhanced by the dim lighting and menacing black and red figures in shapes of rats and nutcrackers on the front stage scrim.
After the height of the action, where Clara killed the Rat King with her shoe, the scrim rose revealing a calm and serene background of silvery blue and a snow-encrusted slope hidden underneath a thin layer of mist. The atmosphere perfectly ushered in the magical snow scene where the Snow Queen (Carolyn Judson) and Snow King (Lucas Priolo) appear through the misty slope.
Judson, a spritely technician, attacked every pique turn and arabesque hold with grace and vigor. Priolo, a true gentleman, offered Judson his arm with poise and easily lifted her over his head during the romantic grande pas de deux. It was a pleasure seeing Priolo perform one of his signature roles with the company one last time before he retires at the end of this season in 2014. The light and airy movement of the snowflakes (advanced students with the company’s ballet school) was lovely as well.
The second act had more of the fabulous technique and artistry viewers have come to expect from the company. Betsy McBride and Alexander Kotelenets were a dynamic duo as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. McBride’s willowy frame made her lines appear unending. She accomplished the fast footwork and difficult turning section in the grande pas de deux with swan-like style. Kotelenets’ Apollo-like features matched his prowess as he ate up the stage in his turning grande jete section.
The acrobatic partnering of Simon Wexler and Philip Slocki in the Chinese section and their drop in from the ceiling on two swings won loud cheers. Boreland as the Gopak received a round of applause for his otherworldly grande jetes. High energy in both of these sections, unfortunately, outshined the slower, yet still beautifully executed Arabian section.
The Waltz of the Flowers contained some visually pleasing formation changes and picture perfect moments as the flowers took turns leaping across the stage in wispy pink tutus. The romantic grande pas de deux by Judson and Priolo was a memorable way to end the show.