Photo: Cathy Vanover
Ballet Ensemble of Texas\’ The Nutcracker
Irving — For dance-lovers everywhere, the holiday season brings a familiar favorite to audiences across the world—The Nutcracker ballet. There’s something about life-sized dolls, glittering snowflakes, and the dreamy Land of Sweets that draws viewers back to theater year after year. But how does a dance company keep the magic alive for returning audiences? Ballet Ensemble of Texas fills the seats of the Irving Arts Center by delivering a consistently lively and fairly traditional version of the holiday classic.
Differing from other pre-professional ballet companies in the DFW area, the Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ production of The Nutcracker featured an entirely home-grown cast—only hiring one guest artist to perform. While many local companies invite guest artists from prestigious companies to fill the most coveted roles like the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince, Ballet Ensemble of Texas chose to use their own highly trained dancers instead. With the exception of American Ballet Theatre’s Patrick Frenette as the Sugar Plum Cavalier, all of the roles are played by company members, apprentices, and academy dancers. Although this changed the caliber of the technical aspects of the work, it enhanced the natural wholesomeness of an already magical production.
Act I clung tightly to traditional renditions of Marius Petipa’s timeless tale. The crowded stage bustled with pantomime and dramatic gestures—exchanging less challenging movement variations with giddy skips, heavy waltz steps, and skittish runs. A delightful Clara (Isabella Desabrias) carried the first half of the show through her enthusiastic facial expressions, delicate balances, and dainty turns.
Through the chaos of children, dolls, and party guests, company apprentices Leah Frazeur and Mally Townsend added refreshing comedic relief in their roles as Maids. While their kicks, pushes, and flirty gazes were exaggerated, the dancers negotiated a tasteful middle-ground that prevented their characters from becoming cheesy or overly hyperbolized.
In another highlight of the first act, Snow Queen (Pearl Smith), Snow King (Ryan Nemmers), and their kingdom of Snowflakes captivated audience members with flurries of luscious sways, turns, and holds. Yet it was Juliana Yu as the Snow Princess who truly shinned. Her stage presence and demeanor was arresting—drawing focus from the moment she swirled onstage. The fierceness behind her quick pique turns and sharp arm gestures provided a much-needed contrast from the softer qualities of the other dancers.
Act II welcomed another huge cast of ballerinas performing all the traditional vignettes—angels, Arabian dancers, Clowns, Mirlitons, fairies, flowers, and more. One memorable performance within this collection was Diana Palmieri and Akhiro Yoshimoto’s Spanish variation. Their partner work may have been the best of the evening—displaying connection in their seamless transitions, fluid swings, and the occasional accented arm.
Unfortunately, the Arabian dance couldn’t quite reach this same level of engagement. Although the dancers swiveled and extended beautifully, the crowded spatial patterns led to confusing visuals and busy formations.
Luckily, the Russian men jumped to the rescue a few numbers later. The all-male section was a welcome change in dynamic—featuring massive leaps, precise footwork, and an overall high-energy display of tricks.
A lovely Waltz of the Flowers lulled viewers into a spell-binding scene of elegant walks, spirited prances, and pleasant balances. Rebekah Gee gleamed in her role as Dewdrop Fairy, embodying a confident, yet gentle demeanor with her precise pique turn phrases.
However, one can hardly discuss the Land of Sweets without mentioning the Sugar Plum Fairy (Audrey King) and the climactic grand pas de deux. King and Frenette shared a steady partnership that grew in trust, strength, and confidence as the scene progressed. As the Sugar Plum Fairy, King provided a cheerful, spirited characterization of this technically difficult role. By her side, Frenette not only offered solid support, but he also delivered fantastic leaps and turns—barely skimming the floor as he circled the stage in his solo variation. Their satisfying duet ended the production with maturity, professionalism, and a sprinkle of magic.