BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's THE NUTCRACKER is Opulent, Charming & Magical
As the Black Friday sales died down, the Houston Ballet's live orchestra began to stir. With a quick hush, the murmuring audience gave into their anticipation of dancing sugar plum fairies. As the lights, hung with care, illuminated the dexterous dancers, Houston audiences responded with glee. After all, they had bought almost every ticket to see this annual, festive holiday jubilee. There is no doubt, Ben Stevenson's highly lauded and much beloved production of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's THE NUTCRACKER is still guaranteed to dazzle and enthrall audiences young and old.
The Houston Ballet is celebrating their 40th anniversary of performances of THE NUTCRACKER, and the Ben Stevenson's production is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season. Ben Stevenson's choreography is impeccably beautiful, alluring, and altogether magical from the opening to the close. From top to bottom, the production is filled with spectacular flourishes that charm and engage the audience, including special effects like a Christmas tree that "grows" to a startling height of 40 feet and 200 pounds of "snow" falling from the sky at the end of Act I. Ben Stevenon's take on the classic tale is always enjoyable to watch, even for repeat viewers like myself. The only qualm I had about opening night was that the energy in the first act did not seem as consistently high as it did in the second act, which did allow for a few lulls in the production.
Allison Miller's Clara is diminutive and spellbound. In the opening sequences, Allison Miller adeptly portrays youthful exuberance, especially when being chased around the stage by Fritz, who is energetically danced by Christopher Gray. After Allison Miller's Clara bravely knocks the Rat King on the head with her shoe, she becomes like the audience-viewing and sharing her experience with us. Here she showcases her skills as actress, actively observing and being enthralled by the dancing.
As the prince, Simon Ball is superb. He gracefully and skillfully protects Clara from the dangerous mice and Rat King. However, it is his performance in the second act, during the climatic pas de duex, that he completely astonishes the audience. In this scene he showcases his marvelous talent with gorgeous and sumptuous dancing that appears completely effortless.
Melissa Hough is pristine as the Sugar Plum Fairy. In the climatic pas de duex she showcases everything that audiences have come to love and expect from classical ballet. Furthermore, she is beautifully modelesque with her perfected poise and grace. Each movement Melissa Hough makes is wonderfully affecting and poignant, ensuing that the audience can do nothing but love her.
Kelly Myernick, dancing the role of the Snow Queen, is magnificent. She closes the first act with gusto and radiant beauty, wowing the audience with her refined elegance.
As the Arabian Dancers, Karina Gonzalez and Rupert Edwards stun the audience. Karina Gonzalez is impressively flexible, especially as she contorts her body while being lifted. Rupert Edwards dances with charisma and exudes personality.
Charles Louis-Yoshiyama shines as Gopak, easily earning thunderous applause and loud cheers from the audience. Never waning in energy, his incredibly high leaps and jumps thrill and delight.
Regardless of their roles, the entire company of dancers is simply extraordinary. So many roles in THE NURTCRACKER are brief showcases of talent that it would simply take much too long to name each dancer. As is expected, the Houston Ballet's production of THE NUTCRACKER is splendidly cast and every dancer is wholly and awesomely talented.
Desmond Heeley's Scenic and Costume Designs are simply inspired and divine. The sets and costumes are reminiscent of a children's storybook, which captures the fantastical spirit and whimsy of the show.
Lisa J. Pinkham has adroitly recreated Duane Schuler's original Lighting Design, ensuring that every scene is immaculately lit and looks nothing short of sublime. Colors are vibrant and rich, showcasing the fantasy elements of the tale while filling the stage with tangible and palpable warmth that resonates through the hall.
Conducted by Ermanno Florio, the orchestra sounds brilliant. The iconic score is brought to stupendous life and moves the audience with its instantly recognizable themes and motifs.
Houston Ballet's annual production of THE NUTCRACKER is a surefire holiday pleasure that the whole family can enjoy time and time again. Many people claim their holiday season simply has not begun until their family has seen THE NUTCRACKER. As always, the production is a luxurious extravaganza that you must see to believe. Even the most miserly Scrooge and nasty Grinch will get swept away in the opulence, charm, and magic of this holiday favorite.
THE NUTCRACKER runs at The Wortham Center until December 30, 2012. For tickets and more information please visit http://www.houstonballet.org or call (713) 227 – 2787.All photos by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy of Houston Ballet.