The Nutcracker

Ballet Austin's 43rd production is what you might call a big-ticket ballet, a sensational show that's all about dreams coming true

The Nutcracker

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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Arts Reviews
Arts Review
Fusebox Festival 2012
This year the fest's dance works provoked questions about inequity, grrrl power, fame, and change

Jonelle Seitz, May 11, 2012

Arts Review
April Fools
Acia Gray mines vaudeville for lost treasures of tap and makes them dazzle again

Robert Faires, April 6, 2012

More by Patti Hadad
Arts Review
Ashes, Ashes
In UT's staging of this postapocalyptic fairy tale, we can't help be sucked into the magic of the infinite hole

Nov. 9, 2007

Arts Review
Tooth and Nail: Plus Tooth 2!
Tongue and Groove Theatre dishes up vaudevillian punk in two odd and hilarious shorts

Sept. 14, 2007


The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky, Ballet Austin, Austin Symphony Orchestra, Will Wynn, Turk Pipkin, Karen Kuykendall, Ballet Austin Academy, Stephen Mills, Anthony Casati, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Allisyn Paino, Christopher Bender, Michelle Nicole Alexander, Christopher Swaim, Lisa Washburn, Paul Michael Bloodgood, Ashley Lynn, Jim Stein, Margot Brown

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle