The holidays took on a warm, fuzzy glow with the opening of Texas Ballet Theater’s glorious new production of The Nutcracker in Bass Performance Hall last weekend. A gift from the now-defunct Ballet Florida of West Palm Beach, the show honors TBT director Ben Stevenson’s longtime work with the company. It’s high on spectacle while retaining much of Stevenson’s wonderful choreography from his old production.
The first-act party scene boasted a grand Edwardian drawing room in 18th-century revival style, with a white-and-gold-paneled ceiling and white-painted columns. Young gold-robed angels glided across the stage and flew overhead, a miniature cavalry unit joined the Nutcracker and his soldiers to fight the Mouse King, and a spectacular brass swan sleigh lifted Clara and her Cavalier off to the Land of Sweets at the end of Act 1.
The Fort Worth premiere included things not seen during the Dallas opening three weeks ago and appears to indicate a work in progress. The old opening street scene, for example, with its parade of guests on their way to the holiday gathering, gave way to the wizard Dr. Drosselmeyer in his shop getting ready for the festivities. In Fort Worth the partygoers were gone entirely, and Drosselmeyer (splendidly acted by Tim O’Keefe) was visited in his shop by the party’s host, arriving in a classy, evergreen-trimmed sleigh with his daughter, Clara, to arrange gifts for the guests.
In Dallas the two mechanical dolls brought in to entertain the Act 1 guests were the same stiff-limbed dancers seen in times past. In Fort Worth Dr. Drosselmeyer waved his hand over them, and they came to life to perform a traditional duet as real people, danced nicely by Robin Bangert and Joamanuel Velasquez.
The large cast headed by Carolyn Judson as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Lucas Priolo as her Cavalier was the same in both cities, although roles change during the run. Judson’s adagio dancing in Dallas in the grand pas de deux was superb: elegant, relaxed, musically aware, and very stylish in the Royal Ballet tradition. In Fort Worth the performance, while impressive, was less compelling. Priolo was a strong partner each night and shone in his solo variations. He’s one of TBT’s longest-tenured dancers, and like all of his colleagues, he manages to raise his performance level each season.
An addition was a Snow Prince to partner the Snow Queen, whose partner in years past, the Cavalier, could now focus on only one woman, the Sugar Plum Fairy. Carl Coomer was the handsome Prince, partnering the up-and-coming Betsy McBride as the Snow Queen. Again the dancers seemed more focused in Dallas than in Fort Worth.
The second act specialty dances featured Stevenson’s familiar choreography along with mostly new costumes. The Spanish ladies now have tutus, which required new choreography, and the Arabian couple descended in a plush-looking litter from the rafters, which brought audible murmurs from the audience. The Chinese dancers, too, entered from the air, in sling-like seats rather than a daybed. Thomas Kilps, in his headlong plunge into Russian folk dance, was thrilling to watch and won the loudest ovation.
The only thing missing was a live orchestra, which doesn’t seem to be in the works anytime soon. One can only hope that the necessary funds will appear. The sound system at Bass Hall is not the best, and Texas Ballet Theater deserves better.
The Nutcracker by Texas Ballet Theater
Thru Dec 23 at Bass Performance Hall, 555 Commerce St, FW. $20-141.25. 877-828-9200.