The Kingdom of Sweets Comes Alive
by Elise Wahn
Arguably one of the most popular ballets ever performed, and one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous works, The Nutcracker, ironically was not one of the composer’s favorites. Now a holiday tradition, Houston Ballet is performing The Nutcracker through December. Choreographed by Ben Stevenson with costumes and sets designed by Desmond Heely, the production is a spectacular vision of a winter wonderland.
A dream within a ballet,The Nutcracker captures the vivid images of a child’s imagination. The stage swirls with living snowflakes, sparkling sugarplum fairies and a giant glittering Christmas tree. Dolls dance, giant rats attack and toy soldiers battle in the space of a single night. The title character emerges as the Nutcracker Prince who guides Clara, a little girl, through the Kingdom of Sweets. Together, they witness the world of Spanish, Arabian, Russian and Chinese dances. A waltz performed by flowers emerges as one of the ballet’s definitive sequences.
The enchanting score is among the first to feature the celesta. Built like a piano but with a sound similar to a glockenspiel, the instrument, invented in 1896, accompanies the famed “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy.” The pas de deux, a duet dance performed by the nutcracker Prince and Sugarplum Fairy, reigns among the ballet’s most memorable scenes.
Costuming and sets for this year’s Houston Ballet performance are sumptuous, employing stunning colors and flowing fabrics. Heely, who created costumes for New York’s American Ballet Theatre, presents designs mirroring the imagination of the score. The Sugarplum Fairy floats across the stage in a palette of pinks, dancing the pas de deux opposite a shining white Nutcracker Prince.
Choreographer Ben Stevenson, after whom Houston Ballet’s affiliated academy is named, served as the ballet’s artistic director for 27 years and choreographed productions for the English National Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, Ballet de Santiago and the National Ballet in Washington, D.C. The recipient of several choreography awards, he was instrumental in transforming Houston Ballet into an internationally acclaimed ensemble.
The performance runs two hours with a brief 20 minute intermission. With its dazzling visual appeal and a score that will leave you humming, The Nutcracker has something for everyone. Don’t miss this holiday treat.