Texas Ballet Theater’s annual parody The Nutty Nutcracker is a week away, but honestly, no one goes as brilliantly nuts in the traditional The Nutcracker than Ben Stevenson. The production that opened at Bass Hall on Friday is the second year for his new, extra-lavish production, but it’s also a reminder that in addition to getting technically flawless work from his dancers, he’s a master at comedy.
Comedy has a place at the table in even the most serious of story ballets, but The Nutcracker, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa to Tchaikovsky’s music and adapted from an E.T.A. Hoffmann story, is filled with more comic opportunities than most. Stevenson revels in it.
His opening party scene, which begins with guests — some of them hilariously toasted — arriving at the Stahlbaum’s, is at its antic best when the room is filled with the partygoers, a few insubordinate children and even more misbehaving adults. You could see this year’s production several times and probably catch new things in the party scene alone, especially antics from Grandfather (Riley Moyano) and Grandmother (Allisyn Hsieh Caro) and Old Auntie (Nicole Von Enck), all of whom pull off enviable physical comedy, not something that’s easy even for performers known for bodily physicality.
It’s pretty amazing when the trouble-stirring Drosselmeyer (Carl Coomer) isn’t the most out-sized character here. Of course, you know Stevenson is also meticulous about the ballet moves when the first dolls, Columbine (Heather Kotelenets) and Harlequine (Jomanuel Velazquez), are taken out of the wonderful cabbage carriage and blend robotic stiffness with balletic grace. Same for the Soldier Doll, who becomes the Nutcracker doll (both played by Drake Humphreys).
This new Nutcracker, with gorgeous sets given to TBT by the now-defunct Florida Ballet (designed by Eduardo Sicango), is big on the high-flying spectacle (flying effects by Flying by Foy), and it’s to lighting designer credit that in the Arabian variation, the dancers enter on a flying carpet for which strings aren’t visible, at least not from my seat on Friday.
But even magic carpets don’t take away from the beauty of Stevenson’s choreography and the dancing in the international divertissements. Thomas Kilps and Dustin Geradine are terrific in using a broad sword and fighting stick to help each other tumble; Robin Bangert and Brett Young are appropriately steamy in the Arabian; Paige Nyman, Lainey Logan and Adam Boreland are a model of technique as the Mirlitons; and Humphreys does fancy footwork and super-high leaps in the Gopak. As always, Madame Bonbonaire — played by a man (Paul Adams) — is hilarious.
After a year out for pregnancy and maternity, Leticia Oliveira is back in glorious form as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Simon Wexler is a commanding Nutcracker Prince in the Grand pas de deux. There’s also stunning work from the Snow Queen and Prince (Katelyn Clenaghan and Alexander Kotelenets).
As Clara, Aoi Takahashi has the right amount of childhood wonder, and still gets to show off some balletic poise.
Beautiful work from all — but when Stevenson is in charge of The Nutcracker, know that you’ll leave with laughter still breaking through the big smile.
It should be noted that casting alternates. The cast members listed in this review will repeat these roles at the Dec. 21 and 26 matinees; Carolyn Judson leads another cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy on Dec. 24 and 27 evenings; and Betsy McBride played the role, fronting another cast Saturday evening.
▪ Through Dec. 27
▪ Bass Hall, Fort Worth
▪ 877-828-9200; www.texasballettheater.org
▪ The Nutty Nutcracker is performed 8 p.m. Friday at Bass Hall.