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BWW Review: Houston Ballet's Virtual Program NUTCRACKER SWEETS is the Holiday Treat You Know & Love

Houston Ballet's NUTCRACKER SWEETS Offers Added Accessibility

BWW Review: Houston Ballet's Virtual Program NUTCRACKER SWEETS is the Holiday Treat You Know & Love

Earlier this week, I got a "1 Year Ago" reminder on my phone. It contained a collection of pictures of my best friend and I, all dolled up in our holiday coats and red lipstick to see the Nutcracker at the Houston Ballet last December. It was my first time since I was little, and for her a yearly tradition. It goes without mention that this year's festivities look a little different, but in the case of Houston Ballet's virtual program NUTCRACKER SWEETS, different can be synonymous with delightful: the same decorated holiday production with all the bells and whistles, along with several added layers of accessibility. While I'd wholeheartedly agree that I can't wait to be back in those theatre seats, this year there's no need to brave the cold or face downtown traffic. Simply snuggle up on your couch, grab some hot cocoa, and treat yourself to the delectable NUTCRACKER SWEETS.


NUTCRACKER SWEETS features an abbreviated performance of The Nutcracker, bookended by new work performances of classic Christmas songs. Starting with "Santa Baby", "Jingle Bells", and "Sleigh Ride", this snippet of the show is both kid-friendly and worthy of a sing-along. While each dancer was filmed separately due to COVID-19 safety guidelines, the clips are edited together to give the closest display to a full stage of dancers. I can only imagine how tedious a task it must have been, but it was both effective and enjoyable.

BWW Review: Houston Ballet's Virtual Program NUTCRACKER SWEETS is the Holiday Treat You Know & Love
Houston Ballet Corps de Ballet
dancer Naazir Muhammad
Photo by Lawrence Elizabeth Knox (2019).

After these Christmas classics, the abbreviated Nutcracker performance begins. For anyone who religiously attends the Nutcracker every year, rest assured that all of your favorite treasures remain even in this shortened, virtual performance. There's the same grand scenic and design (Tim Goodchild), the same regal 60+ piece orchestra (Conducted by Ermanno Florio), and the same star-studded costumes (Tim Goodchild) that have me still mentally weighing which tutu I'd most like to wear. Wendall K. Harrington's projections and Lisa J. Pinkham's lighting designs jump off the screen, enveloping you in the world of the Nutcracker stage.

Any Houston ballet-lover has come to expect the quality and majesty that is Houston Ballet choreography. This production, choreographed by Stanton Welch and Claudio Muñoz, is no exception. The gorgeous dancers and their striking skill are a given, but they are, of course, the stars of this show. They are ethereal. They defy gravity. And they leave me rethinking my entire life plan, trying to figure out how to drop everything and somehow become a ballerina.

Before the program concludes, you are treated to one more performance by Houston Ballet's own Melody Mennite. Mennite sings "O Holy Night" accompanied by Tyrone Boyle as pictures of the Houston Ballet Family trim the screen. It's a gorgeous way to wrap up this program that offers a sampling of various styles of performance. First is a little festive fun, then comes a healthy portion of nostalgia and wonderment, and finally a touch of class and sentimentality. It's satisfying, captivating, and oh so sweet.

As we've learned this year between laggy Zoom meetings and internet crashes, the digital experience matters greatly when you make the choice of attending a virtual event. Complete with an interactive digital program and instructions on how to best watch the show, NUTCRACKER SWEETS delivers excellence on every front. Edited by David Rivera and put together by a team of over 15 individuals, the quality of the film will have you envying every rhinestone on the ballerinas' tutus guaranteed. For those that like sitting up close, there's the added benefit of the filmed performance that gives you an arguably better view than you might typically have in-person.

BWW Review: Houston Ballet's Virtual Program NUTCRACKER SWEETS is the Holiday Treat You Know & Love
Artists of Houston Ballet in
Stanton Welch's The Nutcracker.
Photo by Amitava Sarkar (2019)

The true cherry on top of this virtual program is that it offers several layers of accessibility, which could continue to provide value to the Houston community in future non-pandemic years. Amidst all the loss in the arts, this year has impacted the arts for the better by opening up this conversation regarding arts accessibility. The virtual program grants the audience a shortened show time, still chock full of all the classic, nostalgic Nutcracker moments we look forward to yearly. Rather than being two to three hours all-in length-wise, NUTCRACKER SWEETS clocks in at just an hour. For those watching with family, this might be a more feasible amount of time to get your kiddos to enjoy the show. Plus, you can release any worries about the "Please sit still and be quiet" nature of most outings like this with kids. This ballet takes place in your living room, let them dance, laugh, and be merry!

Additionally, if you or someone you know needs a sensory-friendly performance, this virtual program can easily meet you halfway. The lighting displays, crowds, or loud noises can be overstimulating in person, but this virtual performance offers a more accommodating experience without compromising any of the artistic quality.

Lastly, tickets start at just $35, compared to the usual price of $72. More affordable, more convenient, and more accessible to everyone, with the same beloved ballet and stunning theatrical quality.

I'd compare this experience to when your favorite book gets adapted into a movie, and you're hoping more than anything that the movie retains the comfort, familiarity, and essence of the book. Rest assured, NUTCRACKER SWEETS is exactly what you're hoping for, and just what you need to wrap up your 2020. Festive, familiar, and as joyous as ever. Now that we know that this type of virtual programming is both feasible and successful, why not continue for those that are unable to make the trek downtown for one reason or another? I'd be interested to see if Houston Ballet keeps up some sort of digital streaming of the ballet in future years; I have no doubt that there are some individuals that would gladly reap the joy from it.

You've got until January 8th to enjoy this digital on-demand treat, simply visit www.houstonballet.org for $35 tickets.



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From This Author Audrey Morabito