A Dreamlike “Nutcracker” from H.R.B.

The excited buzz from justifiably proud families and friends filled the auditorium at Tomball High School. The noise quickly vanished as the curtain went up on this season’s final performance of Houston Repertoire Ballet’s dreamlike production of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet. Soon it would be clear that HRB’s Artistic Directors, Gilbert Rome and Victoria Vittum, deserved a large share of the pride in this well-crafted jewel of dance, with superb choreography by Vittum.

In the opening scene, the beautifully painted backdrop depicts the elegant ballroom in the lavish home of Dr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum (played with equal elegance by Ed Hoffart and the company’s resident choreographer, Leeyann Neeley). A gay party is in progress around a towering Christmas tree that would rival that in Rockefeller Center. The guests’ reception line is the perfect showcase for the exquisite period costumes that would equal those of any professional company. Joy pervades the regal atmosphere. Mischievous boys are full of fun. Giddy young girls cluster to gossip. There are charming folk and circle dances for young and old, and even a graceful and amusing tug of war among the children.

Enter Herr Drosselmeier (Mr. Rome) who delights the children with his mystifying feats of magic. He entertains the guests with four dancing mechanical doll he has designed: two harlequins (Rachel Cohen, Lana Koenning) and two soldiers (Kristin Araas and James Farre), all performed with robotic grace and precision. Drosselmeier gives Clara the gift of a nutcracker (Nicholas Saddah) and she leads her girlfriends in smoothly delicate circle dancing. As her brother, Fritz (Tommy Blute), makes a grab for the nutcracker it is broken in the tussle, but then repaired by Drosselmeier and placed in a little crib for recovery. The staging of these scenes is so glorious that each looks like it was plucked from some 19th century antique postcard. A stately court dance led by the doctor and his wife brings the party to a close. Then the real fun begins.

The sleeping Clara has a dream that fills the house with dancing (and fighting) mice and soldiers. The dream Drosselmeier returns to do a spectacular enlargement of the Christmas tree, and the nutcracker becomes a handsome prince who guides Clara on her journey to the Land of Sweets. Act I closes as they pass through the Land of Snow, and I would suggest there has never been a more convincing snowstorm on a stage. The scene fills with wonder as the sublime Snowflake dancers, led by the Snow Queen (Allison Moss) and Snow King (Peter Blute), literally define graceful synchronization in dance with their whirling delicacy amid the falling snow. It was a supreme moment.

More delights would follow in Act II’s Land of Sweets, featuring professional dancers, Yuriko Kajiya and HRB’s own former student, Jarred Matthews, now a member of the renowned American Ballet Theatre Company. The very gifted Miss Kajiya is also a member of the ABT Company. This second act included the elegant candle lighting dance of the Angels, the beautiful Dance of the Flowers, led by the graceful Dew Drop Fairy, Courtney Sandborn. There was a merry cast of Bakers in flashy checkerboard pants, who presented delightful confections. The Spanish Chocolates (James Farre, Christina Kinchen, Alli LaMarca and Nicholas Saadah) whirled proudly with Flamenco flavor, and bows as graceful as their dance. The frisky Chinese Tea dancers (Peter Blute, Emily Dyson, Lindsey Lewis, Charles Syndor) were a whirl of bright turquoise and polka dots. Then came the dance and pastel magnificence of the lovely Mirliton Candies, led by Allison Moss. The Arabian Coffee dancers (Charles Syndor and Allison Wardwell) were both exotic and sensual, and the snappy Russian Bon Bons (Kristin Araas and Rachel Thompson) were full of flair and boundless energy.

The radiant and beaming Mother Ginger (Diane Holland) would clearly win any prize for Grandest Costume. Her gown was large enough to house a dozen young dancers amid her petticoats. The Dew Drop Fairy and her handsome Escort (James Farre) make a matched pair of gems as they lead into the exquisite Waltz of the Flowers. As for the Flowers, enough cannot be said about the supreme caliber of the ensemble dancing from these older girls in the company. It is first class!

All of this culminates in the Grand Pas de Deux from Matthews and Kajiya. And “grand” it was! Floating with a bird-like splendor, she seems etched in a fine-boned delicacy from another world. The grace of her slender arms is like that of no other dancer I have ever seen, and she is well matched by the virile grace of talented Mr. Matthews. Then, the glistening Finale displayed this remarkable cast for yet another much-deserved round of ovations. Bravo!

(The Courier    12.24.04)

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the Lambs Club, he is also editor of The Lambs' Script. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.
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