Houston Ballet’s THE NUTCRACKER Hometown Tour
Beloved Holiday Ballet in New Houston Area Venues
by Bernadette Verzosa
Smart Financial Centre, Sugar Land: December 10 – December 23
Hobby Center, Downtown Houston: December 30 – January 6
Photos by: Amitava Sarkar / Arists of the Houston Ballet
It may be the most beautiful blizzard ballet set on stage. It’s especially mesmerizing for Houston children and families who rarely experience ice storms. The Snow Scene of Houston Ballet’s The Nutcracker is unforgettable with more than 30 performers in magnificent costumes moving to Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Snowflakes.” The graceful and powerful choreography is made even more memorable by the 575 pounds of paper-made snow used per show – some falling from above, some swirling out of dancers’ hands.
This is one of the scenes invigorated by Artistic Director Stanton Welch when he created The Nutcracker, World Premiere for the Wortham Center last year. And it’s one of the fantastic scenes that will be staged in other Houston venues this holiday season. Houston Ballet is taking The Nutcracker on a Hometown Tour. It’s presenting the beloved ballet at Smart Financial Center in Sugar Land and the Hobby Center in downtown Houston.
The relocation was announced after clean-up and construction crews realized that the Houston Ballet’s home stage, the Wortham Center, will not be repaired in time for any of this season’s shows. Hurricane Harvey floodwaters destroyed the lower levels of the Wortham Center last August.
PORTABLE SPRUNG FLOOR & NEW SCENERY
Welch says he was startled by the extent of the damage but like many resilient Houstonians, he and the Houston Ballet made post-Harvey adjustments and are moving forward. “Once you get over the shock and, of course, the sadness of seeing the theater in such disrepair, we think how do we make this great? Let’s make something really unique and special and that’s inspirational,” he says. “It’s a great story of rebuilding and getting up and dusting yourself off and going out and exploring Houston.”
Houston Ballet needed 20-semi-trailer trucks to transport costumes and lavish sets including a 6,000-pound Christmas Tree. The company is also travelling with a portable sprung floor for the safety of the dancers. The smooth specialty surface provides cushioning for leaps and jumps as well as traction to avoid slipping. The floor was made by the American Harlequin Corporation in 4-foot by 8-foot sheets so it can be installed according to the dimensions of any venue.
Welch further customized some movements and stage placements. “Really what this is about is going to each of these places and making the ballet unique for that place. It’s better to harness each theater and show its strengths and make it special rather than try to take the same show,” he says. “The Smart Center is a very wide stage and it will look very different so I think we will use the edges of the stage in a very different way. The Hobby Center is smaller and more compact but deeper. There will be different amounts of dancers in each version.”
FANTASY CREATURES & CHILDREN’S ROLES
Audiences at both venues will be thrilled by the opulent production, which features 282 characters in each performance. And families will be delighted by the youngest dancers who play a variety of roles. More than 300 students of the Houston Ballet Academy are performing in the different casts as party children, mice medics, soldiers, snake charmers, angels, international dolls and fantasy creatures.
The two-act ballet, with the score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, is based on the 1816 story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffman. Welch enriched the role of Clara, the young girl who receives The Nutcracker as a Christmas present.
Generations of Houstonians make The Nutcracker an annual family tradition. This year, more people may be introduced to the Houston Ballet’s presentation because the Hometown Tour is bringing the show closer to their homes. “It’s a beautiful production,” says Welch. “It has something for everyone.”