Ballet Austin’s “The Nutcracker” still fresh and fun

(This scene report was written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Christine Spera.)

One does not attend the matinee show of Ballet Austin’s “The Nutcracker” simply to see the performance. No, there’s too much people watching (and listening, as you’ll soon read) for that.

Before even entering the doors of the Long Center, where “The Nutcracker” plays through Dec. 23, audiences are greeted with a taste of what lies within — the performing arts center’s patio columns, done up as candy canes, contrasted against a pure-blue sky Sunday.

Ballet Austin's production of "The Nutcracker." Choreography by Stephen Mills. Photo by Tony Spielberg.

Ballet Austin’s production of “The Nutcracker.” Choreography by Stephen Mills. Photo by Tony Spielberg.

It may have been nearly 70 degrees outside (second spring?), but that was easily forgotten the moment you stepped into the theater.

Little girls and boys (well, mostly girls), all dolled up in their holiday finest, milled around the lobby.

A girl in a sparkly blue dress who looked about eight years old spotted Ballet Austin’s gift shop, honed in on the display of pointe shoes signed by company members for sale, and motioned excitedly to her mom.

“I just want that blue dress,” I thought to myself. “And that one, and that one, and that one…” I continued, as I looked around the lobby.

Close by was a nearly life-size picture of the Snow Queen and Cavalier, striking a pose, with their faces cut out. Children replaced the blanks with their own faces, while their parents snapped photos.

More photos were taken around oversized scenic candy, seemingly straight out of Candyland.

Then, there was the actual performance, Ballet Austin’s 53rd annual production of “The Nutcracker.” My seat was surrounded by young girls, all of whom endearingly provided colorful commentary throughout the show.

“Wow!” said the girl to my right when the curtain went up after the overture to reveal Act I’s party scene. The sets and costumes, which were brand new at last year’s production, are still fresh.

When Clara shrinks down to toy size, a battle ensues between the Rat King and her beloved Nutcracker under the Christmas tree. But first, a series of mice, played by Ballet Austin Academy children, makes an appearance. “Awww, they’re so cute,” crooned a girl sitting behind me. And then, when the Nutcracker entered the stage, wielding his sword: “There he is!”

Act II’s Court of the Sugarplum Fairy only brought more excitement. The two girls to my right, sitting with their mom between them, were literally bouncing in their seats when Mother Ginger took the stage.

As always, the comedic role of Mother Ginger was played by a “guest star” — a different recognizable community member each show selected by Ballet Austin to fill the role. Dec. 6’s Mother Ginger was played by Gullett Elementary School pre-K teacher James Butler, who was named AISD 2014 Teacher of the Year.

Ballet Austin's production of "The Nutcracker." Choreography by Stephen Mills. Photo by Tony Spielberg.

Ballet Austin’s production of “The Nutcracker.” Choreography by Stephen Mills. Photo by Tony Spielberg.

The girls sitting next to me clearly knew him.

They squealed with delight when he took a huge powder puff to his face and applied lipstick everywhere, including his armpits. They laughed when he, in a reference to “what the kids are doing these days,” busted out some moves from Silentó’s popular “Whip/Nae Nae” music video. The mom, clearly just as amused as her kids, filmed the whole thing on her phone.

And, lastly, there was the moment during Act II’s Waltz of the Flowers scene when the girl behind me began to hum along to Tchaikovsky’s score — accurately.

These kids are not just entertained by “The Nutcracker,” they know it.

What’s cuter than that?

Ballet Austin’s “The Nutcracker” continues through Dec. 23. www.balletaustin.org


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