Saturday, December 15, 2018

Visions of Sugar Plums: Ballet Lubbock's The Nutcracker

by Shane Strawbridge

Ignoring any production of The Nutcracker is tempting. It is ubiquitous. It has been done before, and it will be done again, why not ignore it in favor of something shiny and new? Because that would be a big mistake. Ballet Lubbock’s production of The Nutcracker under the direction of Yvonne Racz Key brings enough technical prowess to earn your attention, and more than enough layers of emotion and magic to hold it from beginning to end.

One of the things that makes this Nutcracker so unique is that Ballet Lubbock uses a live orchestra for the show—a luxury that many companies throughout Texas have done away with in recent years. Under the baton of David In-Jae Cho, the Nutcracker orchestra and choir add a bit of magic to the ballet danced above them. It creates a performance that is richer, more present, and more alive than could possibly be achieved with canned music. Score another point for Ballet Lubbock.

The performances from Racz Key’s cast are pleasing across the board, with a few notable stand-outs. Katrina Gould as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Lawrence Rines as the Cavalier do not disappoint in their featured dances. Gould’s limbs move effortlessly through space, alternating between smooth curves and explosively sharp edges as she floats through The Kingdom of the Sweets. Rines’s body does not appear to be bound by the laws of gravity; when he takes off, his silhouette floats in the air like a mist, leaving you to wonder if his feet will never touch the ground again. Brynn Hunt as the Snow Queen commands your attention from the second she enters the stage, and we happily comply. Hunt has the ability to make everything she does, from the simple to the elaborate, look as easy as taking a breath. The true standouts of the evening are Sydney Mora and Marcos Antonio Vasquez as the Arabian Dancers. While this thought of dance doesn’t immediately conjure the excitement that one feels from other features in the show (everyone always clamors for the Russian), Racz Key has created a breathtaking duet. Mora and Vasquez pair so well together that they may as well be two parts of the same body. Their movements flow in and out of each other like water, creating a tone at the same time inviting and forbidden.

Technical aspects are seamlessly integrated into the production. Lighting design from James Bush never calls attention to itself, instead allowing all of the focus to be on the dancers onstage. Even so, Bush creates several striking images through his lighting. The differentiation throughout the string of national dances in Act II is so clear that one could tell exactly which country was being represented without a note of music being heard. His design for the aforementioned Arabian Dance is especially effective, sculpting a dreamlike atmosphere upon which Mora and Vasquez paint their stunning portrait. Costumes by Leticia Delgado add notes of grandeur to the proceedings. The work gives us what we expect from The Nutcracker while also adding splashes of color and scale that surprise and delight. Sets and special effects have a few tricks up their sleeves that won’t be spoiled here; you’ll have to see it for yourself.

Ballet Lubbock has done us all an excellent service in showing how and why The Nutcracker continues to be a perennial favorite. The ingredients all come together to create a performance that could melt even the iciest of holiday hearts. It is truly enchanting.

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