Ballet Austin's 43rd production is what you might call a big-ticket ballet, a sensational show that's all about dreams coming true
Reviewed by Patti Hadad, Fri., Dec. 16, 2005
Bass Concert Hall, through Dec. 23
Every year, families in Austin dress up in everything from their nicest pair of blue jeans to their best party attire and go to Bass Concert Hall to see The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky's March ought to play as the audience takes its seats. Ballet Austin's 43rd production is what you might call a big-ticket ballet. The troupe produces a sensational show with the aid of major corporation sponsorship, the bond with Austin Symphony Orchestra, civic leaders in attendance, and celebrity guests making cameos as Mother Ginger. (This year's bill includes the likes of Mayor Will Wynn, writer Turk Pipkin, and actress Karen Kuykendall.) And the young students of the Ballet Austin Academy overrun the stage as mice, soldiers, angels, snowflakes, bonbons, and party guests biting the ankles of the stellar dancers of the company, upping the audience's aww-factor exponentially. It's like a grand ball fit for nobility. Anybody who's anybody goes, and the community shells out the bucks for the iridescent nostalgia in the ballet that brings a Christmas fairy tale to life.
For the last six years, Ballet Austin's Nutcracker has been safeguarded by artistic director Stephen Mills' elaborate yet accessible choreography, which is not in the Balanchine tradition but is well deserving of the Royale attention.
The opening scene in the Silberhaus family room, vastly detailed like a two-dimensional pop-up Christmas tree and clock, seems superficial as the family looks over one another's ornamented 19th-century gowns. It isn't until the arrival of Herr Drosselmeyer, the generous uncle who gives Clara the nutcracker doll, that the real dancing commences. Anthony Casati's youthful uncle (a role originally meant to embody German author E.T.A. Hoffmann with dark, pointy, geriatric cosmetics and an eye patch) brings in two dolls dressed as harlequins, and the tricky performances by Allisyn Paino and Christopher Bender nearly surpass the rest of the dancers because of their stamina on pointe footwork, tiptoeing on and offstage like androids.
Later, Michelle Nicole Alexander's Clara, also on pointe, deftly dances with Christopher Swaim's Nutcracker Prince into the Land of Sweets, where snow flurries whiten the stage into a wonderland, and the Snow Queen and King (Lisa Washburn and Paul Michael Bloodgood) skate nimbly in the most picturesque of movements.
In the numbers for the Sugar Plum Fairy's Court, Mills' own entourage of wunderkinder take on the ethnic dances so familiar from the Tchaikovsky score. You can see Mills get very creative with the Arabian dancers, as dancers Ashley Lynn and Bloodgood twist in serpentine seduction while maintaining the essence of ballet. Although some of the dances are predictable, the leggy maneuvers are still breathtaking. The Waltz of the Flowers is an outburst of intertwined steps in which the corps of dancers arches into a trellis for a garden promenade.
In her grand pas de deux finale with Jim Stein's Cavalier, Margot Brown's Sugar Plum Fairy is the portrait of poise and graceful strength, like the American Ballet Theatre's Patricia McBride (with famous heartbreaker Mikhail Baryshnikov). No one here may be able to do a double revoltade with a perfect 90-degree axis, but they are training.
Ballet Austin asks us if Clara was dreaming. In the end, it's all about dreams coming true.