Ah, The Nutcracker…a family favorite holiday tradition and the reason so many of us fell in love with dance in the first place. It goes without saying that The Nutcracker is a delightful experience for a dance lover of any age. The first time you see it, you’re taken with all the children in many roles, the growing tree, the snow, the magically gliding angels and the grand pas de deux. There’s something so magical about this ballet and the many ornaments of enjoyment that leave you feeling like a little child in the Kingdom of Sweets.
I had the pleasure of sitting in the audience during a rehearsal before the Saturday night performance. Sarah Lane asked the conductor to pause when they first enter during their pas de deux’s opening section and to go slower during her solo…explaining that they’d like to “try something different to keep it fresh.” Lane is extremely focused…she brings more than just steps, she gives something very special to the stage, it’s magical. Ulbricht gave Lane a sugary fairy lightness by sustaining her up, up and then UP before down during their solos.
This was my little girl’s fourth Nutcracker with LakeCities Ballet Theatre. Something I noticed this year more than others was that there was so much kindness coming from the older dancers the way they cared for each other. Daniel Ulbricht escorted Sarah Lane onto the stage in Lewisville just coming in from New York and announced how happy they were to be here again and thanked everyone sincerely for having them. Ulbricht and Lane showed tremendous professionalism and I so admire how humble they both are…they were wonderful role models for all the children involved.
Here are ten reasons why we think LakeCities Nutcracker is the best:
1. Ballerina Doll: My son sat still in his seat to see what was in the magical box…a wind-up Ballerina Doll who danced sharp and snappy like a dismantled ballerina. The ballerina doll, Carly Greene, moved with staccato gestures and powerhouse movements that were playful and lively…especially when she would blow kisses.
2. Herr Drosselmeier: Drosselmeier (Ken Wells) has once again shown up to the family Christmas party in Nuremberg, Germany with his puppetry and magic tricks. Drosselmeyer has a magical and whimsical character. He elevated the entire production to the level of the kind of dream that never fades.
3. Clara: Clara (Kristina Lorelli) was the sweetest most lovely dancer (on stage and off). Sometimes older dancers might not thing to stop and say hello to the younger dancers, this Clara made time to spend with the little ones…she even gave each little Baker one of her pointe shoes. She now has a following of sweet dancers who look at her like she is the real Clara. She would convey a sense of innocence and naiveté as the audience watched a budding romance that ushered through the Kingdom of Sweets.
4. The Party Scene: The party scene is endlessly engaging. I always think the best pictures come from the party scene because it’s so visually pleasing. It’s easy to notice something new in the first act…little Fritz (Trevin Ralphs) is such a naughty little trouble maker and the poor nanny ends up upside down.
5. The Battle Scene: LakeCities battle scene is serious combat between the Nutcracker soldiers and eighteen not-so-blind mice. These little mice meant business…carrying off the wounded in stretchers. The mice are endearingly absurd and their King is so hilariously insolent of his enemy that he dies as if believing he were incapable of death as one mouse tosses a white lily onto his belly.
6. Sugar Plum Fairy & Cavalier: The Sugar Plum Fairy, Sarah Lane, is everyone’s favorite fairy. She’s regal, affectionate and delicate yet she has an assertive presence that commands the Kingdom of Sweets. Clara may be the heart of Nutcracker, but the Sugar Plum Fairy is its soul, with her sparkling, fairy-like dancing. The audience sits through nearly the whole show anticipating her entrance.
The Cavalier, Daniel Ulbricht, lights up the room with his charm…even when he’s not dancing. His technical brilliance and athleticism is mesmerizing. Together, Lane and Ulbricht, dance in culmination with such feeling…watching their small nuances and gentle touches leaves the audience in awe. Together they transport the audience to a sweet place that is loving, touching and engaging.
7. The cherubs & angels: Little cherubs and angels guide the way as they take Clara on a journey through the snow. It’s an “angel secret” how the angels appear to be floating across the stage…truly magical, truly angelic.
8. Lewisville Lake Symphony’s Orchestra: The ballet begins with a live orchestra. Tchaikovsky’s score is played by the Lewisville Lake Symphony’s orchestra lead by Adron Ming. Listening to Tchaikovsky live enhances the full experience…his score is the true candy in the Kingdom of Sweets. Every measure is filled with enchantment and nothing can prepare the ears for the grandeur that comes with the main melody…Ulbricht supported Lane as she arched back and her descent matched one of the most beautiful descending scales in Tchaikovsky’s score.
9. The Snow scene: The snow scene is one of the most stunning moments, with lovely clusters of ballerina snowflakes fluttering about in a pool of wintery white. The off-stage vocalizations sung by a snow choir dressed in 19th-century Russian attire put the audience in a dream world. LakeCities Snow Queen, Michelle Lawyer, transported the audience to a snowy winter wonderland with her refreshing breathiness and sweetly flowing lines.
10. The Kingdom of Sweets: In Act II, the angels lead Clara into the Kingdom of Sweets. The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier introduce Clara to dances from around the world…Spain, Arabia, China, Russia and France. The audience wanted to snap along with Carley Denton, Lauren Hunter, Kelsey Rhinehelder, Mikaela Seale as “Spanish Chocolate”, Andre Harrigton’s elevated in style as “Russian Baba,” but it was the underwater artfulness of Julia Tiller and Shannon Beacham in “Arabian Coffee” that still remains one of the favorite highlights of the Kingdom of Sweets. Former Cowboys player Isaiah Stanback also returned as a hilarious Mother Ginger. The entertainment finished with the dance of the flowers and the Sugar Plum Fairy dancing with her Cavalier before Clara returned home.
There’s something special about the way artistic director, Kelly Lannin, tells the classic 19th-century story that makes sense for our community today. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Nutcracker. It will be another opportunity to notice new things and new dancers…and to ponder what’s real and what’s a dream in Clara’s fantasy world. Somewhere out there in the audience, someone’s falling in love with these dancers and what they get to do up on that stage. I never tire of watching and listening to LakeCities Nutcracker.
Frohilich Weihachten from the Stahlbaums’ household in Nuremberg, Germany!
Photo credit: Nancy Loch Photography