‘Nutcracker’ an enduring and endearing tradition
There’s something about tradition in the holiday season. To defy the traditions we have participated in and upheld with our family and friends seems, well, downright sacrilege.
Ballet Austin’s “The Nutcracker,” as the longest-running “Nutcracker” in Texas at 50 years, is an integral part of many families’ traditions, not just in Austin, but in the state. The plethora of dolled-up children attending the performance, the oohs and ahs coming from the audience throughout the two-act ballet, and the animated applause Sunday afternoon at the Long Center proved that the company’s rendition, with original choreography by artistic director Stephen Mills, is here to stay.
Given Texas winters are really more like everyone else’s summers, the snowy forest scene en route to the court of the Sugar Plum Fairy was particularly entrancing. The vision of flurrying snowflakes — both of the white-falling-from-thesky and human varieties — inspired gasps of awe from the audience. As always, the Austin Symphony Orchestra’s live interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s famous score only made the scene all the more wondrous as the corps de ballet moved in canon across the stage, tulle skirts floating to echo their movement.
In the second act, Clara (Ballet Austin Academy’s Leah Gaston, who danced beautifully in the first act’s party scene) and her Nutcracker Prince (Andrew Mankin) arrive in the Land of Sweets. Among the highlights was the boisterous Russian dance in which Ian J. Bethany, along with Preston Andrew Patterson and Kody Jauron, performed a series of consecutive jumps that melded into twirls, all at a booming pace. The applause matched the performers’ energy.
In the Waltz of the Flowers number, Michelle Thompson led her flowers flawlessly. She demonstrated technical skill in her balances and triple pirouettes, all the while radiating joy. She was a pleasure to watch.
One of Ballet Austin’s “Nutcracker” traditions involves the role of Mother Ginger, a woman who sits perched atop a gigantic skirt, out from under which little bonbons scurry. This role is played by a different publicly recognizable figure at each show; Sunday, the role was played by Jenna Bush Hager, who commented in a pre-show announcement that, at 31 years old, she was excited to perform in her first “Nutcracker.”
Her sentiment echoes many budding ballerinas’ feelings about “The Nutcracker” — that it is, above all else, an opportunity for children to perform. It’s a tradition worth continuing.