Tag Archives: Kelly Lannin

Review: Nutcracker, LakeCities Ballet Theatre

LakeCities Ballet Theatre offer up a visual feast of vibrant dancing and stellar guest artists in honor of its 25th production of The Nutcracker.

LBT-NUT
LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s 25th annual presentation of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch

Flower Mound — With stunning sets, exquisite dancing and live musical accompaniment provided by the Lewisville Lake Symphony, it’s no wonder LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s (LBT) annual production of the Nutcracker is one of the top items on people’s to do list every holiday season. This year’s Nutcracker performance was especially festive as it not only marked the company’s 25th anniversary of the holiday classic but was also the first time LBT sold out both showings at Marcus High School in Flower Mound this past weekend. This Nutcracker production also marks a transitional year for the company as many of its senior members graduated last spring, including Sydney Greene, Ali Honchell and Mackenna Pieper, giving members the opportunity to set up to the plate.

For those needing a refresher, the Nutcracker ballet is divided into two acts. The first includes a large party scene where our heroine Clara receives a Nutcracker doll from her Uncle Drosselmeyer. When Clara goes to sleep that night she dreams of a battle between the Rat King and her Nutcracker Prince and also the Kingdom of Sweets where couple’s from different nationalities, including Russia, China and Spain perform for the reigning couple. After the climactic Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier pas de deux, Clara returns to her bed where she awakens from this wondrous dream.

Sarah Lane and Daniel Ulbricht in the grand pas de deux in The Nutcracker at LakeCities Ballet Theatre. Photo: Nancy Loch

In LBT’s version, audiences are immediately pulled into the story as families heading to the Silberhaus’ annual Christmas party marched down the aisles and up onto the stage. Former English National Ballet dancer Kenn Wells (Herr Drosselmeyer) keeps the audience connected as he gestures to us to help him find the location of the party. Artistic Director Kelly Lannin’s fine eye for details, imaginative choreography and quirky sense of humor are on display throughout the party scene from the inventive adult and children dance sequences to Wells’ well-timed practical jokes and Mayor Silberhaus’ (Chuck Denton) over-the-top facial expressions especially after he ingests one too many holiday spirits. Not everyone may have noticed, but Denton also smoothly orchestrated almost every transition in the party scene from the lighting of the tree and the puppet show to the presentation of the Ballerina and Cadet dolls. Madeline Hanly and guest artist Ruben Gerding perfectly captured the doll’s unyielding forms with their pursed lips, angular arm gestures and jerky upper body movements.

Carly Greene shone in the role of Clara. Her natural grace and infectious personality were enhanced by her poignant pointe work and passionate character portrayal. Unlike other productions where Clara does very little after the first half, Lannin gives Greene many opportunities to flex her technical muscles throughout the show, much to the viewers delight. The only instance I am on the fence about is Lannin’s decision to feature Greene and guest artist Jack Wolff (Nutcracker Prince) at the beginning of the Snow Scene, a spot that is typically reserved for the Snow Queen and King pas de deux. Don’t misunderstand, Greene and Wolff nailed every singlearabesque hold, assisted pirouette and various sustained body movements, but their performance just couldn’t match up to the exciting lifts and complex pointe work that Mackenna Pieper and Shannon Beacham have perfected over the years in their roles of Snow Queen and King. Pieper, who graduated last year, has left some hard shoes to fill and it will be interesting to see who rises to the challenge. Adult member Faith Jones’ super long legs and penchant for beautifully controlled movements would fit the role nicely as would Carley Denton’s commanding stage presence and regal posturing.

The cast carried the party vibe over into the second half with more lively and technically brilliant performances by both LBT company members and special guests Sarah Lane (American Ballet Theatre) and Daniel Ulbricht (New York City Ballet) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Denton was fun and flirty as the lead of the Spanish dancers, deftly guiding the rest of the corp, including Chloe Davis, Ashleigh Eaton, Kelsey Rhinehelder and Mikaela Seale through a series of rhythmic hands claps and fast foot work. Jones and Beacham displayed amazing control and dexterity in the Arabian dance especially when Jones bent backwards and held onto her foot while Beacham rotated her in a circle. Guest Artist Andre Harrington got the audience up and cheering with his consecutive back handsprings, while a surprise appearance by former Dallas Cowboys player Isaiah Stanback in the role of Mother Ginger sporting a Cowboys jersey and helmet on top of the large colorful skirt housing eight tiny dancers had the audience in stitches.

Lane and Ulbricht were sublime in the grand pas de deux at the end of the show. They executed the controlledpromenades, ponche arabesques and shifting epaulement phrases in a calm and fluid manner. Lane’s breathy exhales during her multiple pirouettes and various jumping sequences made her moves appear bigger and bolder. Ulbricht’s incredible artistry and athleticism are well known in the ballet world. He eats up the space with his gravity defying jetes and barely makes a sound when he drops to his knee after performing consecutive tours en l’air.

Lannin and her team should be proud of the whimsical and welcoming Nutcracker production they have diligently fostered over the last 25 years. I’m looking forward to seeing how the younger dancers progress into the ballet’s more challenging roles in the coming years.

This review was originally posted  on TheaterJones.com.

 

Review: Music In Motion, LakeCities Ballet Theatre

LakeCities Ballet Theatre performs a season finale program called Music in Motion. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography
LakeCities Ballet Theatre performs a season finale program called Music in Motion. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography

LakeCities Ballet Theatre closes its season with fresh moves and dexterous classical technique during its spring performance.

Lewisville — Don’t let the name fool you. LakeCities Ballet Theatre (LBT) is much more than a pre-professional ballet company, and they proved that Saturday night with Music In Motion at the MCL Grand Theater in Lewisville, ending their season on a high note. Known for their exuberant story ballets and exquisite technique, it may have surprised some to see the company attacking other dance styles such as modern, jazz and contemporary with the same boldness they do classical ballet.

The show opened with a flirty, baroque-fashioned pointe number choreographed by LBT staff member and Juilliard alum Deborah Weaver called Les Oiseaux de Ville. Weaver’s trained ear picked up on all the instrumental nuances in Aram Khachaturian’s composition which added new vigor to the art form’s unchanging technique. For example,pique arabesques finished with flexed palms and bourrees executed with fluttering hands drew attention to the music’s various instrumental phrases. The gold-laced, fingerless gloves which matched the 12 dancers’ gold and white knee-length tutus boosted the visual appeal of these movements. Weaver’s expanding and contracting formation changes and explosive cotangent sequences were also visually stunning.

Shannon Beacham’s Urban Perfume was the biggest surprise of the evening. Set to music by Sven Helbig this contemporary jazz number, performed in soft shoe, featured daring leaps, aggressive runs and simultaneous head and body isolations. The piece started with the six dancers stepping into second position with a contracted torso and arms thrusting down and away from the body. The phrase was repeated as the dancers switch places. As the music built the running became more frantic till the dancers exploded into fouette arabesque leaps and head-whackingbattements. Beacham’s time with Texas Ballet Theater and the Bruce Wood Dance Company showed through his quirky, yet controlled body movements and the opposing tempos he assigned each dancer during certain sections. The dim lighting and shimmering biketards added to the suspense of the piece. Even through the ending was a little underwhelming with the dancers simply running off stage, the core material of the work was still edgy and inspiring.

LBT in Shannon Beacham's Urban Perfume. Photo: Nancy Loch Photogrpahy
LBT in Shannon Beacham’s Urban Perfume. Photo: Nancy Loch Photogrpahy

Pulling double duty as choreographer and performer, Beacham and his wife Christa were phenomenal in their roles as Romeo and Juliet in the ballet’s balcony Pas de Deux. Every caress and assisted lift exuded passion. The trust between the two was undeniable as Christa catapulted herself into Beacham’s arms only to be pressed up into a standing position above his head. The traveling steps for the pair may have been simple but the assisted pirouetteturns and alternating ponche arabesque holds were anything but. Sergei Prokofiev’s heart-wrenching composition only enhanced the couple’s star-crossed love for one another.

LBT 2 Director Shannon Tate’s Where the Sun is Silent challenged the dancers with its modern verbiage and dramatic storyline. Dressed in black liturgical dresses the 10-member group started clumped together arching back and reaching in different directions. The movement encompassed various modern dance techniques, including Martha Graham’s signature contractions and back hinges as well as Lester Horton’s lateral T’s and general ferocity.

The first act ended with LBT Assistant Director Nancy Loch’s rock ballet Move It! which the company premiered in 1998. Dressed all in black with music by Church of Rhythm this funky pointe number transported the audience back to the 90s’. This 17-person ensemble moved with The Rockettes precision as they shifted into a straight line and moved clockwise around the stage on pointe. The walking which made up a majority of the piece was accompanied by hand gestures resembling Madonna’s 1990 Vogue video.

In the second half LBT revealed what they do best in Joseph Mazilier and Marius Petipa’s Paquita. Known as one of the most technically challenging 19th century ballets, Paquita demanded serious control, technical brilliance and unending endurance from the LBT dancers. The first thing audience members noticed was that in many sections the corps mirrored the movement of Principal Dancer Mackenna Pieper. While one or two arabesque holds where not quite aligned with the rest overall the corp gave a strong unified performance. Ali Honchell, Michelle Lawyer and Beacham excelled in the multi-tempoed Pas de Trois. The female’s solos were filled with complex entrechats (a weaving jump from fifth) with multiple beats, double pique turns and grand jetes which they handled with poise. And Beacham seamlessly maneuvered both dancers through a series of composed arabesque and attitude holds.

Steven Loch and Mackenna Pieper in Paquita. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography
Steven Loch and Mackenna Pieper in Paquita. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography

Guest Artist Steven Loch was a powerful force in the pas de deux, but the shining star of the evening was Pieper as Paquita. Tall and leggy Pieper gave each slow developpe arabesque its due. Pieper also managed the quickpirouettes and cabriole soutenu sections with exemplary control and fiery spirit. Overall Paquita was a great match for LakeCities Ballet Theatre. The ballet’s detailed classicism, specifically the proper epaulement (upper body positioning), is one of the many skills Artistic Director Kelly Lannin has drilled into her dancers’ bodies with great results.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Review: LakeCities Ballet Theatre, 2014 Nutcracker

Nutty Glee

Sarah Lane (ABT) and Daniel Ulbricht (NYCB) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in LBT's version of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch
Sarah Lane (ABT) and Daniel Ulbricht (NYCB) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in LBT’s version of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch

LakeCities Ballet Theatre delights audiences with its whimiscal rendition of The Nutcracker accompanied with live music.

Lewisville — As critics sometimes it seems like we are always looking for the weak links in a performance. So it’s always a pleasant surprise when that task proves difficult, as it did Saturday night at LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s (LBT) 24th annual production of The Nutcracker to a sold-out audience at Marcus High School in Flower Mound. In keeping with its family-focused tradition, LBT’s Nutcracker weaved intricate storytelling with spectacular set designs and fanciful choreography that all audience types could appreciate.

The audience was instantly pulled into the action as the families attending Mayor Silberhaus’ Christmas party entered the scene through the aisles acknowledging us as they passed by. Our eyes were then drawn to the richly-decorated stage where the Silberhaus family (Mayor, Frau, Clara and Fritz) are preparing for the festivities. Artistic Director Kelly Lannin’s quick wit and discerning eye kept the story moving and prevented clutter on stage. Traffic jams were avoided with subtle stage entrances/exits and regimented formations. With so many performers onstage, movement was kept to clean chaines, piques and traveling triplets. The adult couples performed tricky waltz steps and nuanced arm movements with a grace you don’t typically see from these characters. Special Guest Ken Wells (Herr Drosselmeyer) got the audience involved as he almost fell into the orchestra pit while seeking out the Silberhaus’ house. He was more senile than mysterious in his actions which suited the younger audience just fine. The festive atmosphere in the auditorium was heightened by Adron Ming and the Lewisville Lake Symphony’s competent rendering of Pyotr Ilyrich Tchaikovsky’s classic score.

What stood out in the first act was the performers’ commitment to their roles. While Claire (Julie Fenske) and her friends danced a sweet adagio number with their dolls the adults stood in the background gesturing to one another while the maids discreetly drank from the wine glasses and the nanny chased Fritz and his friends. Mayor Silberhaus’ (Chuck Denton) over-the-top facial expressions and spirited gesturing set the bar for the other individuals on stage. However, while the heavily layered petticoats and colorful dresses were authentic of the time period, they also made it difficult to see the young dancers’ feet.

LBT’s battle scene is one of the best in the area. Cheeky mice carrying wounded comrades off in stretchers, Drosselmeyer chasing a mouse with rodent repellant and a diva Rat King (Robert Stewart) requiring a plush couch for his death bed are just a few memorable moments. Newcomer Jack Wolff as the Nutcracker Prince was another pleasant surprise. This 14-year-old from Houston is the whole package. Great flexibility, stamina and a commanding stage presence, Wolff is definitely going places. He and Fenske also made a darling couple.

Julie Fenske and Jack Wolff as Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. Photo: Nancy Loch
Julie Fenske and Jack Wolff as Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. Photo: Nancy Loch

With extremely supple feet, pliable back and innate body movements it’s hard to believe Mackenna Pieper (Snow Queen) is only 15 years old. The energy exuding from her fingertips in a ponche arabesque and the ease in which she executes a one-arm assisted slow pirouette is not something you expect from one so young. With a trusting partner such as Shannon Beacham the Snow pas de deux processed seamlessly. And while the snowflakes fast pointe work was exacting and exciting it was sometimes overshadowed by the powerful sounds of the orchestra chimes.

Guest Artists Sarah Lane (American Ballet Theatre) and Daniel Ulbricht (New York City Ballet) breathed new life into the roles of the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier which has previously been performed by ABT’s Julie Kent and Sascha Radetsky. Lane and Ulbricht executed movement with a powerful punch that kept audiences in suspense. Lane’s incredible control and meticulous arm placement made her lines and spins appear unending. Ulbricht is a fireball on stage. His exploding grande jetes are unworldly and his double tour en l’air into a double pirouette down to the knee was perfection.

The other LBT couples in the second half did a commendable job of matching Lane and Ulbricht’s energy and poise. Ali Honchell and Guest Artist Ruben Gerding (Spanish Chocolate) were a whirlwind of petite jumps, spins and assisted lifts. The Arabian dance was everything viewers have come to expect. Beacham contorted Faith Jones into various shapes before slowly rotating her in a circle. Jones’ Gumby-like frame enabled her to pull her extensions behind her head and practically bend her body in half when arching back in Beacham’s arms. Andre Harrington once again displayed his acrobatic prowess in a number of back handsprings and forward tucks as the Russian Baba. The Chinese were sassy and forceful with their pointe work while Mother Ginger (George Redford) and the Polichinelles were lighthearted as they danced rudimentary steps in soft shoes.

The Walt of the Flowers coupled delicate pointe work with continuously shifting patterns and lively performances by three pairs; Julia Tiller and Beacham, Michelle Lawyer and Blaine Quine and Honchell and Gerding. The group’s movements appeared blurry at some points due to the red lighting reflecting off their pink costumes, but that can be adjusted. The overall effect was still dreamy and ornamental.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Texas Treasure

Photo: courtesy of LBT
Photo: courtesy of LBT

Artistic Director Kelly Lannin on LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s upcoming performance, Treasures: 30 Years of Dance, and the company’s influence on the Lewisville community.

Lewisville — “My goal has always been to build a ballet company that the City of Lewisville can be proud of,” says LakeCities Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Kelly Lannin. Now with 30 years  under its belt, a number of students going on to dance professionally, and a Nutcracker production that draws large crowds every year, LBT has surpassed even Lannin’s expectations. “I can’t believe it has been 30 years. Time just flew by.”

Originally from El Paso, Lannin trained at Ballet El Paso before attending Texas Woman’s University where she was the recipient of the Mary Agnes Murphy and the Anne Duggan Dance Scholarships. While at TWU Lannin performed with Dance Repertory Theatre and the DRT Touring Ensemble. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in dance in 1983, she moved to Lewisville to begin her teaching career. Lannin was a charter member of the Lewisville Dance Ensemble (1984) before taking over as artistic director in 1989, and changing the name to LakeCities Ballet Theatre.

The name change was done to give the company a more professional aire, according to Lannin. Instead of an ensemble she wanted to create a regional ballet company that would one day present multiple full-length ballets. A feat, she says, that took a lot of time and patience. “The first decade was about training the dancers and getting the community excited. The second decade we decided to contract with the Lewisville Lake Symphony for The Nutcracker and for the last decade we have been working hard to challenge our dancers in a variety of ballets and dance styles.” Today, Lannin has successfully directed and staged a number of productions, including The NutcrackerLe Ballet de DraculaThe Sleeping BeautyGiselleCoppeliaThe Little Humpbacked HorseCinderellaAlice in Wonderland, Peter and the Wolf and Carmina Burana, just to name a few.

And while Lannin says the dancers’ level of commitment hasn’t change over the years the level of competition within the ballet field continues to rise. “The level of training has just gotten better. Taking class three days a week isn’t cutting it anymore.” She adds that today’s ballet dancers also have to compete with dancers from other countries for those coveted ballet jobs. “These dancers from other countries like China, Japan, and Cuba are incredibly talented and have really upped the ante.”

Another challenge Lannin continues to face deals with funding. “Finding money and then figuring out where to spend it will always be a challenge. Thankfully we have a great parent base that we can always count on whenever we need volunteers. We have some parents who continue to volunteer even after their kids graduate and for me that is the biggest reward.”

Photo: courtesy of LBT
Photo: courtesy of LBT

Lannin says the arts scene in Lewisville has also come a long way over the last 30 years. “Before LBT Lewisville didn’t really have a dance community. I think there were two local dance studios and that’s it. We basically had to build an audience base from scratch.” The Greater Lewisville Arts Alliance, Lewisville Lake Symphony and LBT all came into being around the same time and continue to support one another today. “We remain very close as we are still run by the same group of people. And when the Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theater opened in 2011 it gave all of us a place to call home.”

It’s at the MCL Grand Theater where LBT will be celebrating its 30th Anniversary April 25-26, 2014 with a Spring Gala performance entitled Treasures: 30 Years of Dance. Lannin will present some of her favorite works from past years, including Carmina BuranaPas de Deux from Le Corsaire and Satanella. The program also features new works by choreographers Shannon Beacham, Deborah Weaver and Shannon Tate as well as an alumni number.

This feature was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

Review: The Nutcracker, LakeCities Ballet Theatre

LBT dancers in the snow scene section of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography
LBT dancers in the snow scene section of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography

Live music makes this Nutcracker even sweeter!

LakeCities Ballet Theatre (LBT) continues its 30th anniversary season with its annual production of The Nutcracker ringing in the holiday spirit with strong dancing and live music.

This engaging and well-rounded performance, on Nov. 30 at the Marcus High School Auditorium in Flower Mound, Texas, featured creative storytelling, challenging choreography, amazing guest artists, and elaborate costuming and set designs. And topping it off, LBT invited the Lewisville Lake Symphony, led by Adron Ming, to perform Pyotr IIyich Tchailkovsky’s classic composition.

Upon entering the auditorium, one immediately noticed the twinkling lights and Christmas trees adorning the sides of the stage, as well as the Lewisville Lake Symphony tuning up for the opening party scene. Choreographing a scene like this –– with all the props and people required –– can sometimes be a real challenge.

LBT Artistic Director Kelly Lannin eliminated potential overcrowding by having performers enter the stage from the audience. Her organizational skills also showed in the performers’ military-precision formations and smooth transitions from the children’s dance to the adults. The movement Lannin used highlighted the company’s beautiful lines, proficient pointe work and confident poise. Even the youngest dancers knew how to lift out of their spine and work through the ankle when pointing their toes.

It’s during this party scene that sweet Clara (Carley Denton) receives her beloved nutcracker from her Godfather Drosselmeyer, played by the charming Kenn Wells. At 15, Denton is a more mature Clara, but she’s still able to capture the childlike essence of the character with the added bonus of more advanced technique.

The battle scene between the Nutcracker Prince (Ruben Gerding) and the Mouse King (Robert Stewart) was clean and clever. The sword play between Gerding and Stewart came across very natural and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the little comedic moments, including the Mouse King’s exaggerated dying scene.

The transition to the dreamy snow scene was well done and enhanced by dim lighting, wispy white tutus, and feather-soft movement. The dancers appeared to float across the stage in a series of fast leaps and turns. Even though the Snow King (Michael Eaton) and Snow Queen (Amanda Evans) had a couple of moments of disconnect during their pas de deux, it didn’t have a huge impact on their overall performance.

In the second act, choreographic and production surprises kept coming with the introduction of Julie Kent and Sascha Radetsky, courtesy of American Ballet Theatre, as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Kent is the epitome of grace and elegance while Radetsky has a commanding stage presence. When sharing the stage with seasoned, world-class pros, such as Kent and Radetsky, it is imperative the other dancers try to match them in energy and movement quality. That was not a problem for LBT. The Spanish Chocolate dancers: Amanda Evans, Kendall Galey, Logan Lockhart, and Sophie Van Den Handel have been dancing together for years, and it shows in their timing and concise movement. Even though they’re at different heights and builds, their grande battements and arm placements were uniform.

Kendall Galey as the Dew Drop Fairy and Guest Artist Steven Loch. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography
Kendall Galey as the Dew Drop Fairy and Guest Artist Steven Loch. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography

The Arabian Coffee piece (Faith Jones and Shannon Beacham) was what one would expect: controlled over-the-head lifts and slow contorted shapes. The Chinese Tea section was slightly outshined by the live accompaniment, but the Russian Baba (Guest Artist Andre Harrington) made up for that with powerful tumbling skills that climaxed with the music.

The Waltz of the Flowers featured intricate weaving patterns and a beautiful partnership between Kendall Galey (Dew Drop Fairy) and Guest Artist Steven Loch. They both have infectious smiles and lovely technique. Kent and Radetsky’s effortless grande pas de deux was divine and the perfect note to end the show.

If LBT keeps moving in this direction, there’s no doubt it will be around for another 30 years.

This review was originally featured on www.WorldArtsToday.com.