Arts / Performing Arts

The Nutcracker Makes a Magical Houston Return After a Two Year Absence — Snow, Confetti and Ballet Thrills

Your First Look Review of a Revitalized Holiday Classic

BY // 11.29.21

As Clara and her magical nutcracker returned to Wortham Theater Center for the first time in two years, there was only one thing missing from Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch’s lavish ballet that had its season premiere on Friday night — the adorable young children who pre-pandemic had provided an extra element of charm to The Nutcracker.

In previous years, Welch had roles for students from all levels of the Houston Ballet Academy. This year, dancers are no younger than 12, the age at which COVID vaccines were available when rehearsals began.

Nevertheless, the magic of this holiday tradition glowed and with Welch’s brilliant choreography and incorporation of all 70 of the company‘s dancers, with acclaimed British designer Tim Goodchild‘s remarkably beautiful costumes and sets, lighting design by Lisa J. Pinkham and Wendall K. Harrington‘s phenomenal projections, little was diminished.

In short, we were absolutely charmed and found ourselves smiling throughout the entire performance and joining the standing ovation that followed the production’s conclusion.

Welch premiered his exuberant vision of the time-honored holiday ballet in 2016 and delighted audiences with myriad surprises such as the snowfall that not only gently showered on the dancers but also drifted from above onto the audience. The ballet notes that 575 pounds of paper-made flurries drift down on stage during the Snow Queen visit each performance. It was a melting snow, however, that lightly showered the audience. In a moment of Nutcracker joy, confetti showered down on the stage and the audience as well.

Houston Ballet’s The Nutcracker 2021
Artists of Houston Ballet in the 2021 season opener of Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker. (Photo by Lawrence Elizabeth Knox, Courtesy of Houston Ballet)

In another surprise for those who have yet to see this presentation, the “Waltz of the Flowers” takes an opulent turn from the tradition of dancers costumed as flowers. Welch’s interpretation features a ballroom scene with coupled dancers in powered wigs, the femmes in diaphanous tea-length gowns appointed with blossoms. Each gown takes 80 hours to complete and requires six separate layers of netting, tulle and organza.

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Also this year, Houston Ballet will participate in a dancer exchange with Salt Lake City’s Ballet West. Houston audiences can see Ballet West principals Beckanne Sisk and Chase O’Connell perform as Sugar Plum Fairy and Nutcracker Prince on December 19 at 6:30 pm and on December 20 and 21 at 7:30 pm. Principals Yuriko Kajiya and Connor Walsh will perform with Ballet West on December 17 and 18.

Houston Nutcracker evening performances are scheduled through December 24 with matinees on selected dates. Tickets and further information are available here.

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