Monday, November 30, 2009

"The Nutcracker" In Dallas

While we were in Dallas, Joshua and I (and everyone else) attended Saturday night’s performance of “The Nutcracker” at the new Winspear Opera House. The performance was a presentation of Texas Ballet Theater.

I was not sure what to make of Winspear Opera House. My instinct told me that it was a bad building, unattractive, unimaginative and unappealing—and, moreover, proto-1970’s in feel and outlook. However, the structure may require time for visitors to learn fully to appreciate.

We experienced the building at night. Winspear Opera House may require a daytime visit in order for the exterior to reveal its secrets.

At night, I acquired no sense that Winspear Opera House fitted into or enhanced its surroundings. Indeed, Winspear Opera House was completely overshadowed by the beauty and clean lines of nearby Meyerson Symphony Center, America’s finest concert hall and one of I.M. Pei’s key masterpieces. Compared to Meyerson, Winspear is an eyesore.

The exterior of Winspear Opera House is unusual. The architects used a structure-within-a-structure concept, creating a cylindrical multi-level core building (in which is housed the theater) encased within a giant glass box with a protruding roof. The result: Winspear Opera House looks exactly like a ruby version of New York’s Guggenheim Museum set within the framework of the new Copenhagen Opera House. Instead of stealing from one building, the architects have stolen from two. I am dumbfounded that the many architectural analyses of the building that have appeared in print since Winspear Opera House opened in October have not pointed this out.

The interior of the theater is a traditional horseshoe-shaped opera house. It is intimate, and elegant, and marked by very steep upper levels. The theater is said to have exceptional acoustics.

I would not be able to vouch for the acoustical properties of Winspear Opera House because the “Nutcracker” performance we attended used recorded music.

Texas Ballet Theater, resident ballet company of Fort Worth’s Bass Hall and Dallas’s Winspear Opera House, veers on the cusp of insolvency. One of its many cost-cutting measures has been to abandon the use of an orchestra, an action that instantly renders the company provincial.

Texas Ballet Theater is an offshoot of Fort Worth Ballet. The company has been fully professional only since 1985. Texas Ballet Theater has been the flagship company of Dallas-Fort Worth since the demise of Dallas Ballet, a company of international standing, in the 1990’s.

Whether Texas Ballet Theater can survive is an open question. The company is in financial peril as well as embroiled in controversy with the I.R.S. over “loans” made to its current director.

I did not think much of Texas Ballet Theater’s “Nutcracker”. The production, by Ben Stevenson, was a recreation of Stevenson’s production from the 1980’s for Houston Ballet, a production the Houston company still maintains in its active repertory. I find it remarkable that both Texas companies present identical productions of the Christmas classic.

The stage designs, by Desmond Heeley, were monumental—but monumental without beauty. Stevenson’s choreography lacked interest and individuality. The stage was crammed with dancers, including at least 100 student performers, but the staging never once came to life. It was more P.T. Barnum than E.T.A. Hoffmann.

It is impossible to judge the quality of a company by a “Nutcracker”. Given multiple castings, and dancer ennui about doing the same thing every night for a month, year in and year out, “The Nutcracker” seldom showcases a company at its best.

Nonetheless, I saw no evidence that Texas Ballet Theater was a distinguished company.

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