BWW Reviews: Ballet Austin's THE NUTCRACKER Proves Its Place as Austin's Resident Holiday Tradition
If there was ever a timeless holiday tradition, specifically in the world of performing arts, it is The Nutcracker ballet. In fact, one of my first memories of the theatre was seeing the Houston Ballet with my mother and grandmother at the age of 8 (and hadn't seen it since). Whether you go for the sparkling costumes, the familiar music, the festive atmosphere, or the lovable story- most patrons of this ballet favorite have a story to tell or a memory to share, and Ballet Austin did a spectacular job of keeping that memory alive.
Now in its 52nd year, Ballet Austin's The Nutcracker has become an expected, seasonal favorite. Housed in the beautiful Long Center since 2009, the production has been seen by over 1 million patrons since its local inception in 1962. Ballet Austin operates as the 19th largest classical ballet company in the country, and their production of The Nutcracker is the longest running within the state of Texas (and with good reason).
Set on Christmas Eve in the home of young Clara Silberhaus (danced in this particular performance by Madeline Casas), family and friends are gathered for a celebratory evening of dancing and gifts when Clara's godfather, Drosselmeyer, (Edward Carr) stops by bearing a Nutcracker doll for Clara. After the party, once the house is quiet and asleep, her Nutcracker doll comes to life to fight the Rat King (whom Clara defeats), as Clara is led into the magical Land of Snow where she encounters the Snow Queen and King and iconic Sugar Plum Fairies.
To say the show is well cast would be a vast understatement. Each and every dancer contributed a unique combination of poise, technique, and personality necessary to embody their respective characters and bring the story, believably, to life. Most notable were the roles of Clara's Governess (danced in this particular performance by Ashley Lynn Sherman), the lead flower (Jamie Lynn Witts), and the Russian (danced in this particular performance by Ian J. Bethany). Sherman's believability and embodiment of her character, Witts' rare combination of grace, passion, and an obvious compassion for both Clara and her flowers, as well as Bethany's raw talent and unmistakable energy gave the production an extra jolt of both impressiveness and professionalism. Also worth mentioning is the amazing talent and technique of (dancing in this particular performance) oren Porterfield's Columbine Doll. Of course, the grandeur of the famous Sugar Plum Fairy (danced in this particular performance by Aara Krumpe) and her Cavalier (danced in this particular performance by Frank Shott) carried the second act with their near effortless chemistry combined with their beautiful technique- both together and apart.
The true showstoppers of the evening, however, lie in Judanna Lynn's breathtaking costumes. Taking the traditional ballerina uniform, Lynn's creativity colors the Land of Snow, and allows the stage- and its dancers- to sparkle and shine. From Witts' eye catching full, rainbow skirt that moved with grace, to both Krumpe and the Snow Queen's (danced in this particular performance by Anne Marie Melendez) awe-inspiring tutus, the only thing that improved the costumes was the lovely company of dancers within them. In a production that balances on the delicate line of believability and imagination, Lynn successfully created a wardrobe that accented the magical Land of Snow and enhanced the realm of imagination. Stephen Mills' choreography, Tony Tucci's lighting design, and Holly Highfill's scenic design should not go without mention. The combination of these technical elements successfully came together to make believers out of the entire audience.
For a tried and true holiday tradition over half of a century old, Ballet Austin's The Nutcracker did not disappoint. The skill and sentiment of dancers, from the lead role of the Sugar Plum Fairy to the absolutely adorable angels danced by the younger students of the Ballet's Academy, the impressive technical elements complimenting and, in the case of costumes, enhancing the story, set against the backdrop of Tchaikovsky's familiar score, it's no wonder The Nutcracker becomes someone's new holiday tradition year after year. A self-proclaimed musical theatre buff myself, taking a Broadway break to see the ballet was a breath of fresh air and a treat, and I found myself just as immersed, if not more, in Tchaikovsky and Ballet Austin's world of dance and pretend. Whether 8 or 80 (a cliché much overused but very necessary and honest in this case), The Nutcracker is a treat not to be missed.
Ballet Austin's The Nutcracker runs at the Long Center's Dell Hall through December 23rd. Tickets can be purchased at www.balletaustin.org.
Photo Credit: Ballet Austin