Texas Ballet Theater‘s The Nutcracker at the Winspear Opera House was absolutely delightful. The audience was filled with young ladies in party dresses and adults enjoying an annual tradition. Even the house itself was dressed up: the Moody Foundation Chandelier was hung to resemble a Christmas tree before it ascended to the ceiling to the music of Philip Glass. The audience seemed to happily anticipate the performance, but they also seemed to hold back when the dancers first appeared on stage. By the end, though, there was a firm engagement between the audience and the performers.
For those who haven’t seen it, the story begins with a party in the living room of a well-to-do family. There is merriment and dancing, with the children reveling in the evening. Herr Drosselmeyer appears with an air of slightly menacing mystery and brings with him wonderful curiosities such as life-sized dancing dolls. For Clara, the family’s young daughter, he brings a stately nutcracker. After all have gone to bed, Clara creeps down the stairs to find Herr Drosselmeyer and the the Nutcracker who become embroiled in a battle with the Mouse King. Once the King is vanquished, the Nutcracker Prince carries Clara to a magical land of sweets, where a parade of performers dance for her (and our) pleasure. Set to Tchaikovsky’s splendid and imminently recognizable score, it can be difficult not to hum along (I applaud Texas Ballet Theater’s commitment to fiscal responsibility in using recorded music, as they have done for the last few years. I found I did not miss the live orchestra as much as I would have predicted.).
I haven’t been to see The Nutcracker since my son was in it as a young child; he’s 20 now, so it’s been a while. The production has been updated since I last saw it, with sumptuous sets that delight the eyes and yet somehow also highlight the dancers. From the sprightly antics of Fritz to the athletic prowess of the Russian dancer to the delicate beauty of the Sugar Plum Fairy, each vignette offers a little something more to tantalize the senses. A couple of my favorites included the entrance of the toys in a cabbage that resembled a precious box and the dance of the Snowflakes in which the ensemble performed beautifully as one and the principal seemed to float through the air. I was somewhat disappointed in the Arabian dance; it seemed a little stiff, where I wanted it to be fluid and sultry. Minor disappointment quickly became enchantment as the Chinese dancers descended from above to perform their dance. From there, the excitement built through the appearance of Mother Ginger and the always charming dance of the flowers to the eagerly anticipated pas de deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. All in all, it was an evening well-spent, and I look forward to seeing it again next year.