FORT WORTH Although this year’s production of The Nutcracker from Ballet Frontier of Texas is filled with children in the opening party scene — the ratio of kids to adults has to be at least 4-to-1 — it’s the group’s most grown-up production of the holiday staple yet. Meaning, there are enough trained professional dancers, mostly courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre, to make the crucial variations of the second act not seem like an afterthought, as they have in years past.
In fact, this Nut, choreographed by Chung-Lin Tseng and Roy Tobias, is thought out through and through. It still has a ways to go to compete with the bigger Nutcrackers in town, but the improvement this year is a snowshoe-step in the right direction. It’s a fitting send-off for Tseng’s career as a dancer. The former TBT principal and Ballet Frontier artistic director is retiring from dancing after Friday’s night’s performance as the Snow King.
The co-choreographers step it up this year, beginning with the shindig at the Stahlbaums. As the party is populated mostly by children, the action keeps them entertained, as if it’s supposed to be an event for the young ’uns. For instance, there’s a puppet show, with puppet versions of the Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King battling. That’s not the only bit of foreshadowing: Earlier, Clara (a delightful Cayce Diggs on Friday; Rebekah Harrington on Saturday) is visited by mice and snowflakes as the rest of the action freezes around her.
That’s part of the magic conjured from Drosselmeyer (former Texas Ballet Theater principal Michael Clark), who is the first character seen on stage in this Nutcracker, getting ready for a night of magic.
The battle scene led by the non-puppet Nutcracker Prince (Andrew Coffey) and Mouse King (Larry Shaw) is filled with terrific balletic fight choreography. Soon enough, the Snow King and Snow Queen (Ballet Frotier principals Andrey Prikhodko and Marina Goshko, both formerly of Metropolitan Classical Ballet) let us know that high-skill, polished dancing is coming. (His one-arm lift of her being a great example.)
That’s followed by first-rate work by Robin Bangert as the Sugar Plum Fairy. And although he had a few bobbles on Friday, Tseng reminded why he was once a principal of a major ballet company.
As for the international variations, the Arabian (Elizabeth Villareal and Derrick Smith) showed great improvement over last year; and it’s nice to have more men showing up in the Spanish (Carli Petri and Jamie Thompson) and Russian (Jacey Thompson and Chris McKenzie), although the latter was not as athletic as we usually get from that segment in most productions.
Audiences are responding, too. Friday night’s opening had more in attendance than I’ve seen for this group in Will Rogers Auditorium. Many of them were likely there to support a family member or friend in the cast, but they all joined in appreciation for Tseng, who proved this year that his company’s big moneymaker is on the right path, especially now that he’ll be focusing his talents on choreographing.