Magic Across the Footlights 6

The Nutcracker at the Bass — a Fort Worth holiday tradition — returns 
to delight children and adults alike

Two of Fort Worth’s premier cultural institutions — the Texas Ballet Theater and the Bass Performance Hall — are in many people’s minds inextricably entwined. A partnership that has yielded rich dividends for over 50 years, the collaboration between the ballet troupe and its home theater is perhaps best represented in one iconic annual performance: Tchaivosky’s the Nutcracker, which has become a holiday tradition for untold numbers of Fort Worth families.

Ben Stevenson has served as artistic director for the Texas Ballet Theater for the past 13 years. Though the Nutcracker itself remains timeless, Ben and the Texas Ballet Theater have made every effort to keep each season’s performance uniquely vital and compelling.

“The Texas Ballet Theater had several productions of the Nutcracker before I arrived and brought my own production to the company,” says Ben. “For the last three years, we’ve had a new one, with new sets and costumes, and some nice moments such as the flying carpet and other things that children love to see.”

It’s difficult to overstate the impression that a Texas Ballet Theater performance of the Nutcracker can leave on a young spectator. The majesty of the Bass Performance Hall, combined with the baroque sets and costume, the graceful, almost superhuman feats of the dancers, the general air of pomp, circumstance, and festivity; not to mention the experience of seeing one’s own peers — other children — performing on stage. In an age when wonder gets reduced to the size of an iPad screen, a live ballet performance can make a stupendous and lasting impression.

Of course, such grand results do not come easily. Every year, the Texas Ballet Theater puts in untold hours of preparation to reformulate its saga of rat versus soldier. When asked to describe the process, Ben Stevenson has a simple, pseudo-serious answer:

“It’s called a nightmare, actually,” he says with a chuckle. “We have seven different casts so there’s a lot of rehearsal that goes into it. We also do the Nutty Nutcracker, our spoof, and rehearse it at the same time. We also try to get our up-and-coming dancers onto the stage for the leading roles, which leads to even more rehearsal time.”

The child-performers, though an immensely memorable and indispensable component of the show, add an additional level of complexity to the rehearsals.

“We have loads of children involved in the production,” says Ben. “We have two groups from our children’s schools in Dallas and Fort Worth. We have over 100 children in the final production.”

The involvement of young performers is one aspect of the Nutcracker that makes it uniquely special, however, and especially compelling for holiday audiences.

“With the Nutcracker, you have children seeing ballet for the first time, along with children performing for the first time,” explains Ben. “Children meeting children across the footlights. Little girls and boys will come out into the lobby and jump around, acting like the soldiers they saw on stage. For me it never gets boring, and is a new adventure every year.”

This holiday season, anyone interested in the magic of the Nutcracker must mark their calendars for attendance at the Bass, as Texas Ballet Theater will not perform the ballet at Dallas’ Winspear Opera House. The Nutcracker at Bass Performance Hall runs December 11-13, 17, 19-20, 23-24 and 26-27. Visit the troupe’s website at TexasBalletTheater.org for a full schedule and to purchase tickets. If you’ve never enjoyed a performance of the Nutcracker at Bass, there’s no easier way to make Christmas 2015 one that you and your family will never forget.