Usually, productions of the seasonal ballet favorite The Nutcracker fall into two categories: good and very good. The piece is so well known, and so consistently performed, that most companies can pull it off nicely.
But the Texas Ballet Theater’s production of this Tchaikovsky ballet, which opened a 17-performance run at Bass Hall on Friday, may demand a third category be added to that list: stupendously good.
This company’s version, choreographed by its artistic director Ben Stevenson (after the original work of Marius Petipa), is as dazzling as an immaculately decorated Christmas tree and abounds with gorgeously crafted dance and movement.
As you may know, this ballet is based on a children’s story by E.T.A. Hoffman, about a young girl, Clara, who receives a nutcracker as a Christmas gift. Thanks to the wondrous machinations of the magician Drosselmeyer, the toy comes to life and battles a threatening band of mice. Clara is then transported to the Kingdom of Sweets, where she is treated to a magical parade of dancers representing foods and customs from around the world. Tchaikovsky’s staging of it debuted in St. Petersburg in 1892 but, surprisingly, it was not seen in America until 1944. You might say it has caught on here since.
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The first thing that that will wow you about this production is its look. Eduardo Sicango’s set designs are traditional, but splendid. And still more dazzling are the uncredited costume designs, which range from bright, cartoonish looks that delight the children to gorgeously opulent numbers that impress the adults. The unsung heroes of this presentation are what must have been the small army of seamstresses who prepared these outfits for performance. The costumes for this enormous cast may have already been built, but they must all be made to fit. And every costume (right down to those worn by the hilariously menacing mice) looks like it is perfectly tailored to its wearer.
But those costumes and sets would not mean much if the dancing was not also outstanding. At the opening night performance seen for this review, it was striking to see how polished and precise the steps were. Stevenson’s design makes sure that almost everyone on stage is in motion at all times, and yet there was never a second when any dancer seemed to have the slightest hesitation about what to do and when to do it.
There are many standout moments in the one hour and 50 minute production, especially in the second act. The Arabian dancers make a memorable entrance on a flying carpet that really flies, and dismount to perform a pas de deux that is just a little bit sexy. The Chinese dancers give an acrobatic martial arts demonstration. The trio in the Dance of the Mirlitons are incredibly exact and delicate in their moves. And the famous grand pas de deux, that closes the ballet, is as beautiful and exquisite as everything else about this production.
It would be a little misleading to identify the specific dancers here, because the exact cast I saw on Friday will be in their roles in only three more performances. Because of the number of presentations, and the demands of this piece, the roles shift throughout the run. But, given this company’s track record overall and in with this ballet in particular, there is every reason to assume that all performances will shine as brightly as did opening night.
The only thing that keeps this from being a perfect Nutcracker is that it is performed to a recorded score, rather than the more acoustically pleasing efforts of a live orchestra.
But there is such a high gloss and attention to detail on every other aspect of this eye-popping production that even a problem that major is forgivable. Is this ballet doesn’t make visions of sugar plums dance in your head, nothing will.
Texas Ballet Theater presents The Nutcracker
▪ Though Dec. 27
▪ Bass Hall, Fort Worth
▪ 8 p.m. Saturdays; 7 p.m. Thursday, Sundays and Dec. 23; and 2 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays, Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 Note: The TBT will present its parody The Nutty Nutcracker on Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. There will be no performances on Dec. 25.