FORT WORTH -- If a sign of a ballet company's growth is that its Nutcracker is more artistically successful than the previous year's, then Ballet Frontier of Texas is on its way up. This year's production of The Nut, which opened Friday at Will Rogers Auditorium, is more cohesive than the group's 2010 production.
Ballet Frontier is young, and like a lot of ballet schools, its Nutcracker is dominated by youngsters, with professionals in the heavy-duty dance roles. Staged by Roy Tobias and artistic director Chung-Lin Tseng (who also dances the part of Cavalier), the show is thoughtfully conceived, with the corps and the characters working together for the whole rather than for individual parts.
That's evident as the opening party at the Stahlbaums' home gets a little rowdy, with all the guests given something to do, even if many of them are children. Pretty quickly, Holloway Bird proves herself to be a charming Clara. On the other hand, Magnus Rittby's Drosselmeyer is missing an element of mischievousness.
By the time we get to the battle scene between the rodents (with Larry Shaw as the Mouse King) and soldiers (Joshua Prather is the Nutcracker Prince), an infectious energy has hit the stage. Then, in the Land of Snow, the snowflakes, Snow Queen (Sarah Ellis Worden) and Snow King (Daniel Westfield, stepping in for Paul Adams) dish out the seasonal bliss.
Of course it's the second act, in the Kingdom of Sweets, where the exciting dancing happens. As the Sugar Plum Fairy, Lainey Schilling Logan is gorgeous but could use more edge. As Cavalier, Tseng is admirable but shows that as a ballet dancer ages, he becomes less sure-footed. He does show great technique, though.
Some of the International Doll variations are overcrowded, but they are mostly delightful. In the Arabian segment, Daniel Westfield and Brooke Neal display the finest-honed skills. Tobias' choreography, with Arabian attendants using a large translucent piece of fabric for the lead dancers to couple underneath, is a nice touch.
The athleticism, height and skill that adult professional dancers often display in these lead roles could use more oomph, but they are technically proficient. Throughout, the children -- as angels, flowers and party guests -- are adorable.
If Ballet Frontier keeps growing at this rate, its Nutcracker will be a hot ticket soon.